care and the body

Loss in Childbearing in Malawi: Interpretations of Accountability and Blame

Dr Bregje de Kok


Loss in childbearing (maternal mortality; induced and spontaneous abortions; perinatal mortality) is an important problem in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), specifically, in Malawi. Regardless of sustained global initiatives, maternal mortality (MM) and pregnancy loss are unacceptably common. In Malawi, life-time risk of maternal death is 1 in 18 (UK: 1 in 8200). Delays in seeking and receiving care are important contributors to the burden. They are not fully explained by practical (e.g. costs, distance) and cognitive (lack of knowledge) barriers. We need more insight into how local rationales affect use and provision of care, in particular interpretations of responsibility, blame and women’s entitlement to care. For instance, in Malawi, some interpret obstructed labour as signalling a woman’s infidelity, who is kept at home until she confesses. Practitioners’ moral judgements matter too; they seem to underpin substandard maternal care in SSA. In various African contexts, practitioners have been found to verbally and physically abuse especially ‘deviant’ clients (those not attending antenatal care, teenage mothers).

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