A critical account of the policy context shaping perinatal survival in Nepal: policy tension of socio-cultural versus a medical approach
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Abstract Background Nepal formulated a range of policies related to maternal and neonatal survival, especially after the year 2000. Nevertheless, Nepal’s perinatal mortality remains high, particularly in disadvantaged regions. Policy analysis can uncover the underlying values, strategies and policy formulation processes that shape the potential to reduce in-country health inequities. This paper provides a critical account of the main policy documents relevant to perinatal survival in Nepal. Methods Six key policy documents covering the period 2000–2015 were reviewed using an adapted framework and were analyzed through qualitative content analysis. Results The analysis shows that the policies focused mainly on the system: improvement in provision of birthing facilities; targeting staff (Skilled Birth Attendants) and health service users by providing cash incentives to staff for bringing patients to services, and to users (pregnant women) to attend health institutions. Despite a growing focus on saving women and newborn babies, there is a poor policy focus and direction on preventing stillbirth. The policy documents were found to emphasize tensions between birthing at home and at health institutions on the one hand, and between strategies to provide culturally appropriate, woman-centered care in communities and medically orientated services on the other. Policies acknowledge the need to provide and address woman-centered care, equity, social inclusion, and a rights-based approach, and identify the community based approach as the mode of service delivery. Over and above this, all policy documents are aimed at the national level, and there is no specific policy direction for the separate ecological, cultural or geographic regions such as the mountainous region, which continues to exhibit higher mortality rates and has different cultural and demographic characteristics to the rest of Nepal. Conclusions To better address the continuing high perinatal mortality rates, particularly in disadvantaged areas, national health policies should pay more attention to the inequity in healthcare access and in perinatal outcomes by integrating both stillbirth prevention and neonatal survival as policy agenda items. To ensure effective translation of policy into practice, it is imperative to tailor the strategies according to acknowledged policy values such as rights, inclusion and socio-cultural identity.
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