Studies in low-resource settings have highlighted disparities in person-centered maternity care (PCMC) – respectful and responsive care during childbirth – based on women’s socioeconomic status (SES) and other characteristics. Yet few studies have explored factors that may underlie these disparities. In this study, the authors examined implicit and explicit SES bias in providers’ perceptions of women’s expectations and behaviors, as well as providers’ general views regarding factors influencing differential treatment of women. The authors conducted a convergent mixed-methods study with 101 maternity providers in western Kenya. Implicit SES bias was measured using an adaptation of the Implicit Association Test (IAT) and explicit SES bias assessed using situationally specific vignettes. Qualitative data provided additional details on the factors contributing to disparities. Results provide evidence for the presence of both implicit and explicit bias related to SES that might influence PCMC. Differential treatment was linked to women’s appearance, providers’ perceptions of women’s attitudes, assumptions about who is more likely to understand or be cooperative, women’s ability to advocate for themselves or hold providers accountable, ability to pay for services in a timely manner, as well as situational factors related to stress and burnout. These factors interact in complex ways to produce PCMC disparities, and providing better care to certain groups does not necessarily indicate preference for those groups or a desire to provide better care to them. The findings imply the need for multilevel approaches to addressing disparities in maternity care. This should include provider training on PCMC and their biases, advocacy for women of low SES, accountability mechanisms, and structural and policy changes within health care settings.

Authors: Patience A Afulani, Beryl A Ogolla, Edwina N Oboke, Linnet Ongeri, Sandra J Wiess, Audrey Lyndon, Wendy Berry Mendes

Publication Date: January 2021

DOI: 10.193/heapol/czaa190

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