Explanatory models of stillbirth among bereaved parents in Afghanistan: implications for stillbirth prevention

Aliki Christou, Camille Raynes-Greenow, Adela Mubasher, Sayed Murtaza Sadat Hofiani, Mohammad Hafiz Rasooly, Mohammad Khakerah Rashidi, Neeloy Ashraful Alam

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Local perceptions and understanding of the causes of ill health and death can influence health-seeking behaviour and practices in pregnancy. We aimed to understand individual explanatory models for stillbirth in Afghanistan to inform future stillbirth prevention. This was an exploratory qualitative study of 42 semi-structured interviews with women and men whose child was stillborn, community elders, and healthcare providers in Kabul province, Afghanistan between October-November 2017. We used thematic data analysis framing the findings around Kleinman's explanatory framework. Perceived causes of stillbirth were broadly classified into four categories-biomedical, spiritual and supernatural, extrinsic factors, and mental wellbeing. Most respondents attributed stillbirths to multiple categories, and many believed that stillbirths could be prevented. Prevention practices in pregnancy aligned with perceived causes and included engaging self-care, religious rituals, superstitious practices and imposing social restrictions. Symptoms preceding the stillbirth included both physical and non-physical symptoms or no symptoms at all. The impacts of stillbirth concerned psychological effects and grief, the physical effect on women's health, and social implications for women and how their communities perceive them. Our findings show that local explanations for stillbirth vary and need to be taken into consideration when developing health education messages for stillbirth prevention. The overarching belief that stillbirth was preventable is encouraging and offers opportunities for health education. Such messages should emphasise the importance of care-seeking for problems and should be delivered at all levels in the community. Community engagement will be important to dispel misinformation around pregnancy loss and reduce social stigma.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0001420
JournalPLoS Global Public Health
Issue number6
Number of pages25
Publication statusPublished - 2023


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