Background: Maternal morbidity and mortality related to infection is an international public health concern, but detection and assessment is often difficult as part of routine maternity care in many low- and middle-income countries due to lack of easily accessible diagnostics. Front-line healthcare providers are key for the early identification and management of the unwell woman who may have infection. We sought to investigate the knowledge, attitudes, and perceptions of the use of screening tools to detect infectious maternal morbidity during and after pregnancy as part of routine antenatal and postnatal care. Enabling factors, barriers, and potential management options for the use of early warning scores were explored.
Methods: Key informant interviews (n = 10) and two focus group discussions (n = 14) were conducted with healthcare providers and managers (total = 24) working in one large tertiary public hospital in Blantyre, Malawi. Transcribed interviews were coded by topic and then grouped into categories. Thematic framework analysis was undertaken to identify emerging themes.
Results: Most healthcare providers are aware of the importance of the early detection of infection and would seek to better identify women with infection if resources were available to do so. In current practice, an early warning score was used in the high dependency unit only. Routine screening was not in place in the antenatal or postnatal departments. Barriers to implementing routine screening included lack of trained staff and time, lack of thermometers, and difficulties with the interpretation of the early warning scores. A locally adapted early warning screening tool was considered an enabler to implementing routine screening for infectious morbidity. Local ownership and clinical leadership were considered essential for successful and sustainable implementation for clinical change.
Conclusions: Although healthcare providers considered infection during and after pregnancy and childbirth a danger sign and significant morbidity, standardised screening for infectious maternal morbidity was not part of routine antenatal or postnatal care. The establishment of such a service requires the availability of free and easy to access rapid diagnostic testing, training in interpretation of results, as well as affordable targeted treatment. The implementation of early warning scores and processes developed in high-income countries need careful consideration and validation when applied to women accessing care in low resource settings.