A new report says more than one-third of women in four low-income countries in Africa and Asia were slapped, mocked, forcibly treated or otherwise abused during childbirth in health centers.
The study was carried out in Ghana, Guinea Myanmar and Nigeria by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and published in the Lancet Medical Journal.
The study, which was carried out on 2,016 women, found that 42 per cent of the women experienced physical or verbal abuse or some form of stigma or discrimination at maternity health facilities.
The study also found a high number of caesarean sections, vaginal exams and other procedures being performed without the patient's consent.
In Ghana, 926 women took part in the study which was carried out between September 19, 2016, and January 18, 2018.
The researchers conducted continuous labour observations on the women from their time of admission, throughout labour and childbirth, until two-hour post partum.
According to the study, 31.6 per cent of the women who were observed during childbirth were physically or verbally abused, or discriminated against.
It said the most common form of abuse was verbal, adding that, physical and verbal abuse peaked 30 min before birth until 15 min after birth and were most highly concentrated during the 15-min period before birth.
The study also revealed that whereas 5.3 per cent of the women requested for pain relief, 38.8 per cent of those women did not receive it.
It added that most (95.0 per cent) of the women were not asked for their preferred birthing positions.
It added that while some women in Guinea (0.2 per cent) and Nigeria (1.5 per cent) were instructed to clean up blood, urine, faeces, or amniotic fluid after birth, none of the women observed in Ghana was asked to do so.
The authors of the study urged officials to hold those who mistreat women during childbirth accountable. They also urged the governments to put into place clear policies and sufficient resources to ensure that women have a safe place to give birth.
Among the specific steps proposed by the study are: making sure all medical procedures are performed only after getting an informed consent; allowing the patient to have a companion of their choice in the delivery room; redesigning maternity wards to offer the maximum privacy; and making sure no health facility tolerates instances of physical or verbal abuse.