WHO statement on eliminating disrespect & abuse in childbirth

The World Health Organization (WHO) statement issued this week challenges governments, clinicians and researchers to respond to the call for the prevention and elimination of disrespect and abuse during childbirth.1   This includes:

  1. Greater support from governments and development partners for research and action
  2. Programmes to improve the quality of maternal health care, with a strong focus on respectful care
  3. Emphasizing the rights of women to dignified, respectful healthcare through pregnancy and childbirth
  4. Generating data related to respectful and disrespectful care practices, systems of accountability and meaningful professional support
  5. Involving all stakeholders, including women, in efforts to improve quality of care and eliminate disrespectful and abuse practices

We, at the Centre for Midwifery, Maternal & Perinatal Health (CMMPH), strongly support the WHO’s statement that: “Every woman has the right to the highest attainable standard of health, including the right to dignified, respectful care during pregnancy and childbirth.”

Disrespect and abuse are significant barriers to facility birth in many low and middle income countries; an area that CMMPH has been exploring. Lesley Milne and colleagues have been working on this area in Nepal2, while PhD student Rachel Arnold has been working in Afghanistan3.  In addition, CMMPH researchers are looking at dignity within the UK. Dr Jenny Hall is working with the charity Birthrights to explore dignity in maternity care for women with disabilities.

More widely, lack of compassion in health care has triggered HSC researchers to study the issue of the de-humanisation of care.  Consequently, the School of Health and Social Care has a long-standing reputation in the field of humanising care research.  Scholars such as Professor Les Todres, Professor Kate Galvin (now at the University of Hull), Dr. Caroline Ellis-Hill and Dr. Ann Hemingway to name but a few, are at the forefront of this field globally.

CMMPH applauds the WHO stand on this issue and hopes that it helps to maintain the global momentum to eliminate disrespectful care.

 Prof Edwin van Teijlingen and Prof Vanora Hundley


  1. http://www.who.int/reproductivehealth/topics/maternal_perinatal/statement-childbirth/en/
  2. Milne L, van Teijlingen E, Hundley V, Simkhada P. Barriers within hospital (either real or perceived) to women seeking facility based birth in Nepal. Final report to Wellbeing of Women. 2014
  3. Arnold R, van Teijlingen E, Ryan K, Holloway I. Understanding Afghan health care providers; a qualitative study of the culture of care in a Kabul maternity hospital. BJOG (submitted).