Introduction There are now well-established global standards for supporting improvement in women's experience of maternity services, including frameworks for the prevention of mistreatment during childbirth. To support initiatives to improve the quality of care in maternal health services in Timor-Leste, we examine the adoption of global respectful maternity care standards in the national intrapartum care policy and in three urban birth facilities in Dili. Methods From May to July 2022, we conducted a desk review of the Timor-Leste National Intrapartum Care Standards and Clinical Protocols for Referral Facilities and Community Health Centres. This was followed by a health-facility audit of policies, guidelines and procedures in three main maternity facilities in the capital, Dili to examine the extent to which the WHO (2016) standards for women's experiences of care have been adopted. Results Despite the availability of global guidelines, key standards to improve women's experience of care have not been included in the National Intrapartum Care guidelines in Timor-Leste. There was no mention of avoiding mistreatment of women, needing informed consent for procedures, or strengthening women's own capability and confidence. In the policy wording, women tended to be distanced from the care 'procedures' and the protocols could be improved by taking a more woman-centred approach. The results of the health facility assessment showed extremely low use of standards that improve women's experiences of care. Health Facility 1 and 2 met two of the 21 quality measures, while Health Facility 3 met none of them. Conclusion The discourse communicated through policy fundamentally affects how health care issues are framed and how policies are enacted. Given the findings of this study, combined with previously documented issues around quality of care and low satisfaction with maternal health services, there is a need for a fundamental shift in the culture of care for women. This will require an immediate focus on leadership, training and policy-frameworks to increase respectful care for women in health facilities. It will also require longer-term effort to address the power imbalances that drive mistreatment of women within and across social systems, and to support models of care that inherently foster understanding and compassion.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0289394
Pages (from-to)1-12
Number of pages12
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number3 March
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2024


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