Maternal and neonatal healthcare outcomes in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) remain poor despite decades of different health service delivery interventions and stakeholder investments. Qualitative studies have attributed these results, at least in part, to sociocultural beliefs and practices. Thus there is a need to understand, from an overarching perspective, how these sociocultural beliefs affect maternal and neonatal health (MNH) outcomes.
A qualitative meta-synthesis of primary studies on cultural beliefs and practices associated with maternal and neonatal health care was carried out, incorporating research conducted in any country within SSA, using data from men, women and health professionals gathered through focus group discussions, structured and semistructured interviews.
A systematic search was carried out on seven electronic databases, Scopus, Ovid Medline, PubMed, CINAHL Plus, Humanities and Social Sciences (Informit), EMBASE and Web of Science, and on Google Scholar, using both manual and electronic methods, between 1st January 1990 and 1st January 2017. The terms 'cultural beliefs'; 'cultural beliefs AND maternal health'; 'cultural beliefs OR maternal health'; 'traditional practices' and 'maternal health' were used in the search.
Key components of cultural beliefs and practices associated with adverse health outcomes on pregnancy, labour and the postnatal period were identified in five overarching factors: (a) pregnancy secrecy; (b) labour complications attributed to infidelity; (c) mothers' autonomy and reproductive services; (d) marital status, trust in traditional medicines and traditional birth attendants; and (e) intergenerational beliefs attached to the 'ordeal' of giving birth.
Cultural beliefs and practices related to maternal and neonatal health care are intergenerational. Therefore, intensive community-specific education strategies to facilitate behaviour changes are required for improved MNH outcomes. Adopting practical approaches such as involving husbands/partners and communities in antenatal care services in a health facility and community settings can enhance improved MNH outcomes.