The formal private sector could play a significant role in determining whether success or failure is achieved in working towards goals for safe motherhood in many low- and middle-income settings. Established private providers, especially nurses/midwives, have the potential to contribute to safe motherhood practices if they are involved in the care continuum. However, they have largely been overlooked by policy-makers in low-income settings. The private sector (mainly doctors) contributes to overprovision and high Caesarean section rates in settings where it provides care to wealthier segments of the population; such care is often funded through third-party payment schemes. In poorer settings, especially rural areas, private nurses/midwives and the women who choose to use them are likely to experience similar constraints to those encountered in the public sector — for example, poor or unaffordable access to higher level facilities for the management of obstetrical emergencies. Policy-makers at the country-level need to map the health system and understand the nature and distribution of the private sector, and what influences it. This potential resource could then be mobilized to work towards the achievement of safe motherhood goals.
Bulletin of the World Health Organization, 81(8), 616-623 pp.