Despite the policy change stopping traditional birth attendants (TBAs) from conducting deliveries at home and encouraging all women to give birth at the clinic under skilled care, many women still give birth at home and TBAs are essential providers of obstetric care in rural Zambia. The main reasons for pregnant women's preference for TBAs are not well understood. This qualitative study aimed to identify reasons motivating women to giving birth at home and seek the help of TBAs. This knowledge is important for the design of public health interventions focusing on promoting facility-based skilled birth attendance in Zambia.
We conducted ten focus group discussions (n = 100) with women of reproductive age (15-45 years) in five health centre catchment areas with the lowest institutional delivery rates in the district. In addition, a total of 30 in-depth interviews were conducted comprising 5 TBAs, 4 headmen, 4 husbands, 4 mothers, 4 neighbourhood health committee (NHC) members, 4 community health workers (CHWs) and 5 nurses. Perspectives on TBAs, the decision-making process regarding home delivery and use of TBAs, and reasons for preference of TBAs and their services were explored.
Our findings show that women's lack of decision- making autonomy regarding child birth, dependence on the husband and other family members for the final decision, and various physical and socioeconomic barriers including long distances, lack of money for transport and the requirement to bring baby clothes and food while staying at the clinic, prevented them from delivering at a clinic. In addition, socio-cultural norms regarding childbirth, negative attitude towards the quality of services provided at the clinic, made most women deliver at home. Moreover, most women had a positive attitude towards TBAs and perceived them to be respectful, skilled, friendly, trustworthy, and available when they needed them.
Our findings suggest a need to empower women with decision-making skills regarding childbirth and to lower barriers that prevent them from going to the health facility in time. There is also need to improve the quality of existing facility-based delivery services and to strengthen linkages between TBAs and the formal health system.