Press Releases

One in Five Women Reports Disrespectful or Humiliating Treatment During Childbirth at Kenya Hospital

Population Council Survey Released Today Documents Disrespect and Abuse Some Women Face

NAIROBI (22 March 2012) — The Population Council is working to change the way health systems, providers, and women think about quality childbirth care in Kenya. Today in Nairobi, the Council and partners (the Ministry of Health, the Federation of Women Lawyers, and the National Nurses Association of Kenya) are releasing the results of a new survey documenting one of the key—yet often overlooked—issues that prevent women from seeking skilled care.

"Today, just four in ten Kenyan women have their babies in a hospital or birthing clinic. One reason for low rates of skilled birth attendance is that some women experience disrespect and abuse at hospitals and clinics," said Population Council researcher Charlotte Warren. "Certainly every woman seeking care doesn't experience this terrible treatment, but even one case of disrespect or abuse is too many. Women deserve quality care and support during pregnancy and childbirth."

To increase the number of women seeking skilled childbirth care in health facilities, governments, health systems, and practitioners need sound evidence documenting the disrespect and abuse that women experience and the effect that such treatment has on a woman's willingness to seek skilled attendance. They also need proven strategies to improve the quality of care that women receive.

With funding from the US Agency for International Development, the Council and its partners have documented the types and prevalence of disrespectful and abusive treatment women experience at hospitals and clinics in select districts around Kenya. The baseline survey found:

  • Nearly one in five women were treated in a humiliating way or felt disrespected (18%);
  • Nearly one in 10 felt their privacy was compromised (7.4%), and the same amount were ignored when they asked for pain relief (7.5%);
  • Four percent of women reported receiving treatment they did not consent to, and 4 percent reported being physically abused;
  • Sometimes, mothers who lack funds to pay for treatment are detained with their infants and not allowed to leave the hospital.

The Council's assessment also found some quality-of-care issues that must be addressed at the health system level—including dirty facilities; insufficient resources (e.g., beds, curtains, equipment); and lack of food, drinks, and bathing water—that may further discourage women from delivering in facilities.

The Population Council is working with community members, policymakers, and partners to examine the data and define solutions that will help to end this poor treatment. The Council seeks to ensure that women and families understand that mistreatment is neither normal nor acceptable; train managers and supervisors to create a culture of excellence where respect for patients is the norm; and to help providers understand the importance of treating patients with dignity. The Council will be working closely with communities and health facilities to define and implement initiatives that will be closely monitored and evaluated. The most effective solutions will be refined and expanded across the region.

About the Population Council
The Population Council confronts critical health and development issues—from stopping the spread of HIV to improving reproductive health and ensuring that young people lead full and productive lives. Through biomedical, social science, and public health research in 50 countries, we work with our partners to deliver solutions that lead to more effective policies, programs, and technologies that improve lives around the world. Established in 1952 and headquartered in New York, the Council is a nongovernmental, nonprofit organization governed by an international board of trustees.

# # #

For more information, contact
Charlotte Warren:; +254 20 271 3480

Media contact; +1 212 339 0500