Informal social accountability in maternal health service delivery: A study in Northern Malawi

Elsbet Lodenstein*, Christine Ingemann, Joyce M. Molenaar, Marjolein Dieleman, Jacqueline E.W. Broerse

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Despite the expansion of literature on social accountability in low-and middle-income countries, little is known about how health providers experience daily social pressure and citizen feedback. This study used a narrative inquiry approach to explore the function of daily social accountability relations among maternal health care workers in rural Malawi. Through semi-structured interviews with 32 nurses and 19 clinicians, we collected 155 feedback cases allowing the identification of four main strategies social actors use to express their opinion and concerns about maternal health services. We found that women who used delivery care express their appreciation for successful deliveries directly to the health worker but complaints, such as on absenteeism and poor interpersonal behaviour, follow an indirect route via intermediaries such as the health workers’ spouse, co-workers or the health committee who forward some cases of misbehaviour to district authorities. The findings suggest that citizen feedback is important for the socialization, motivation and retention of maternal healthcare workers in under resourced rural settings. Practitioners and external development programmes should understand and recognize the value of already existing accountability mechanisms and foster social accountability approaches that allow communities as well as health workers to challenge the systemic obstacles to quality and respectful service delivery.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0195671
Pages (from-to)1-17
Number of pages17
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 11 Apr 2018


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