What is it about?

This qualitative ethnographic study in a maternity hospital, Afghanistan uses interviews with and observations of doctors, midwives and care assistants. The study included 6 weeks of observation followed by 22 semi-structured interviews and four informal group discussions with staff, two focus group discussions with women and 41 background interviews with Afghan and non-Afghan medical and cultural experts.

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Why is it important?

Main outcome in our paper relates to the culture of care in an Afghan maternity hospital. We found a large workload, high proportion of complicated cases and poor staff organisation affected the quality of care. Cultural values, social and family pressures influenced the motivation and priorities of healthcare providers. Nepotism and cronyism created inequality in clinical training and support and undermined the authority of management to improve standards of care. Staff without powerful connections were vulnerable in a punitive inequitable environment—fearing humiliation, blame and the loss of employment. Poor care puts the lives of women and babies at risk and was, in part, the result of conflicting priorities. The underlying motivation of staff appeared to be the socio-economic survival of their own families. The hospital culture closely mirrored the culture and core values of Afghan society. In setting priorities for women's health using the Sustainable Development Goals, understanding the context-specific pressures on staff is key to more effective programme interventions and sustainability.


This paper analyses the culture of a Kabul maternity hospital to understand the perspectives of healthcare providers on their roles, experiences, values and motivations and the impact of these determinants on the care of perinatal women and their babies.

Professor Edwin R van Teijlingen
Bournemouth University

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This page is a summary of: Parallel worlds: An ethnography of care in an Afghan maternity hospital, Social Science & Medicine, September 2018, Elsevier, DOI: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2018.09.010.
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