Despite improvements in recent years, Ethiopia faces a high burden of maternal morbidity and mortality. Antenatal care (ANC) may reduce maternal morbidity and mortality through the detection of pregnancy-related complications, and increased health facility-based deliveries. Midwives and community-based Health Extension Workers (HEWs) collaborate to promote and deliver ANC to women in these communities, but little research has been conducted on the professional working relationships between these two health providers. This study aims to generate a better understanding of the strength and quality of professional interaction between these two key actors, which is instrumental in improving healthcare performance, and thereby community health outcomes.
We conducted eleven in-depth interviews with midwives from three rural districts within Jimma Zone, Ethiopia (Gomma, Kersa, and Seka Chekorsa) as a part of the larger Safe Motherhood Project. Interviews explored midwives’ perceptions of strengths and weaknesses in ANC provision, with a focus as well on their engagement with HEWs. Thematic content analysis using Atlas.ti software was used to analyse the data using an inductive approach.
Midwives interacted with HEWs throughout three key aspects of ANC promotion and delivery: health promotion, community outreach, and provision of ANC services to women at the health centre and health posts. While HEWs had a larger role in promoting ANC services in the community, midwives functioned in a supervisory capacity and provided more clinical aspects of care. Midwives’ ability to work with HEWs was hindered by shortages in human, material and financial resources, as well as infrastructure and training deficits. Nevertheless, midwives felt that closer collaboration with HEWs was worthwhile to enhance service provision. Improved communication channels, more professional training opportunities and better-defined roles and responsibilities were identified as ways to strengthen midwives’ working relationships with HEWs.
Enhancing the collaborative interactions between midwives and HEWs is important to increase the reach and impact of ANC services and improve maternal, newborn and child health outcomes more broadly. Steps to recognize and support this working relationship require multipronged approaches to address imminent training, resource and infrastructure deficits, as well as broader health system strengthening.