In Nigeria, hypertensive disorders have become the leading cause of facility-based maternal mortality. Many factors influence pregnant women’s health-seeking behaviors and perceptions around the importance of antenatal care. This qualitative study describes the care-seeking pathways of Nigerian women who suffer from pre-eclampsia and eclampsia. It identifies the influences – barriers and enablers – that affect their decision making, and proposes solutions articulated by women themselves to overcome the obstacles they face. Informing this study is the health belief model, a cognitive value-expectancy theory that provides a framework for exploring perceptions and understanding women’s narratives around pre-eclampsia and eclampsia-related care seeking.
This study adopted a qualitative design that enables fully capturing the narratives of women who experienced pre-eclampsia and eclampsia during their pregnancy. In-depth interviews were conducted with 42 women aged 17–48 years over five months in 2015 from Bauchi, Cross River, Ebonyi, Katsina, Kogi, Ondo and Sokoto states to ensure representation from each geo-political zone in Nigeria. These qualitative data were analyzed through coding and memo-writing, using NVivo 11 software.
We found that many of the beliefs, attitudes, knowledge and behaviors of women are consistent across the country, with some variation between the north and south. In Nigeria, women’s perceived susceptibility and threat of health complications during pregnancy and childbirth, including pre-eclampsia and eclampsia, influence care-seeking behaviors. Moderating influences include acquisition of knowledge of causes and signs of pre-eclampsia, the quality of patient-provider antenatal care interactions, and supportive discussions and care seeking-enabling decisions with families and communities. These cues to action mitigate perceived mobility, financial, mistrust, and contextual barriers to seeking timely care and promote the benefits of maternal and newborn survival and greater confidence in and access to the health system.
The health belief model reveals intersectional effects of childbearing norms, socio-cultural beliefs and trust in the health system and elucidates opportunities to intervene and improve access to quality and respectful care throughout a woman’s pregnancy and childbirth. Across Nigerian settings, it is critical to enhance context-adapted community awareness programs and interventions to promote birth preparedness and social support.