Chapman RR. (2003). Endangering safe motherhood in Mozambique: prenatal care as pregnancy risk. Soc Sci Med. 57(2), 355-74. doi: 10.1016/s0277-9536(02)00363-5
Despite high infant and maternal mortality rates, many Mozambican women with access to prenatal services delay prenatal clinic consultations, limiting opportunity for prevention and treatment of preventable pregnancy complications. Ethnographic research, interviews with health providers and longitudinal pregnancy case studies with 83 women were conducted in Central Mozambique to examine pregnant women’s underutilization of clinic-based prenatal services. The study found that pregnancy beliefs and prenatal practices reflect women’s attempts to influence reproduction under conditions of vulnerability at multiple levels. Women reported high maternal reproductive morbidity, frequent pregnancy wastage, and immense pressure to bear children throughout their reproductive years. Reproductive vulnerability is intensified by poverty and an intense burden placed on poor, peri-urban women farmers for family subsistence and continuous fertility in a period of economic austerity, land shortages, and increasing social conflict and inequality. In this environment of economic insecurity exacerbated by congested living conditions, women report competing for scarce resources, including male support and income. This vulnerability heightens women’s perceptions that they and their unborn infants will be targets of witchcraft or sorcery by jealous neighbors and kin. They respond by hiding pregnancy and delaying prenatal care. Within the context of women’s perceived reproductive risks, delayed prenatal care can be seen as a strategy to protect pregnancy from purposeful human and spirit harm. Women mobilized limited resources to acquire prenatal care outside the formal clinic setting. It is concluded that provision of clinical prenatal services is insufficient to reduce reproductive risks for the most socially and economically marginal since it is their vulnerability that prevents women from using available services. Confidential maternity services and social safety nets for greater economic security are recommended.