In resource-limited countries, it is estimated that up to 75% of maternal deaths are preventable. Maternal referral
systems are an effective measure to help prevent these deaths.
The objective of this study was to delineate criteria that health care workers use to identify obstetrical emergencies
and make referrals, in order to evaluate the effectiveness of the established referral system and to implement improvements to
Using a qualitative study design, the individuals with the highest level of formal obstetrics training at 10 health posts
that refer to a rural Zambian hospital were surveyed using semi-structured interviews regarding their referral protocols. Data
were analyzed through open-coding. At the conclusion of the interview, standardized referral protocols for obstetric emergencies derived from published guidelines and local practices were distributed.
Identified complications resulting in referral most commonly included post-partum hemorrhage (70%), prolonged
labor (70%), malpresentation (50%), antepartum hemorrhage (40%), and retained placenta (40%). While numerous reasons for
referral were identified, there was little consensus on the referral protocol used for each complication. Obstacles to successful
referral most commonly included cellular network disruptions (70%), distance (50%), and lack of transportation (30%).
The referral protocols distributed to health posts covered only 11 of the 23 complications cited as the most common reason
The referral criteria and protocols were updated to include all of the reported complications. We propose this
document for others working in resource-limited settings attempting to establish or evaluate a maternal referral systems.
Cite as: Benson AE, Benson MJ, Luke AH. Assessment of maternal referral systems used for a rural Zambian hospital: the development of setting
specific protocols for the identification of complications. Afri Health Sci. 2019;19(1). 1536-1543. https://dx.doi.org/10.4314/ahs.v19i1.27