Background: Birth preparedness and complication readiness (BP/CR) comprise a strategy to make women plan for birth and encourage them to seek professional care in order to reduce poor pregnancy outcome. We aimed to understand the facilitators and barriers to BP/CR among community health workers (CHWs) and community members in rural Rwanda.
Methods: Eight focus group discussions were conducted with 88 participants comprising of CHWs, elderly women aged 45-68 and men aged 18-59, as well as two key informant interviews in Musanze district, Rwanda, between November and December 2015. Qualitative data were digitally recorded, transcribed verbatim and analysed using content analysis.
Results: Participants perceived the importance of family assistance, medical insurance and attending antenatal care (ANC) to facilitate BP/CR and enhance professional care at birth. CHWs reinforced BP/CR messages by SMS alerts and during community gatherings. 'Ubudehe (collective action to combat poverty)' was known as a tool to identify the poorest families in need of government aid to pay for medical care. Disrespect and abuse of women during labor by health workers were perceived as important barriers to access professional care, as well as conflicting health policies such as user fees for ANC and family planning services, and imposing fines on women giving birth outside health facilities.
Conclusion: CHWs, ANC and medical insurance are perceived to be important facilitators of BP/CR. Respectful care is paramount for improved maternal health. There is a need for addressing inconsistent health policies hindering the intention to access professional care.