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Keywords:

  • barriers to health care;
  • Lao PDR;
  • maternal health;
  • maternity waiting homes

Abstract

The concept of maternity waiting homes (MWH) has a long history spanning over 100 years. The research reported here was conducted in the Thateng District of Sekong Province in southern Lao People's Democratic Republic (PDR) to establish whether the MWH concept would be affordable, accessible, and most importantly acceptable, as a strategy to improve maternal outcomes in the remote communities of Thateng with a high proportion of the population from ethnic minority groups. The research suggested that there were major barriers to minority ethnic groups using existing maternal health services (reflected in very low usage of trained birth attendants and hospitals and clinics) in Thateng. Unless MWH are adapted to overcome these potential barriers, such initiatives will suffer the same fate as existing maternal facilities. Consequently, the Lao iteration of the concept, as operationalized in the Silk Homes project in southern Lao PDR is unique in combining maternal and infant health services with opportunities for micro credit and income generating activities and allowing non-harmful traditional practices to co-exist alongside modern medical protocols. These innovative approaches to the MWH concept address the major economic, social and cultural barriers to usage of safe birthing options in remote communities of southern Lao PDR.