Quality and respect are increasingly recognized as critical aspects of the provision of health care, and poor quality may be an essential driver of low health care utilization, especially for maternal and neonatal care. Beyond differential access to care, unequal levels of quality exacerbate inequity, and those who need services most, including displaced, migrant, and conflict-affected populations, may be receiving poorer quality care, or may be deterred from seeking care at all.

Examples from around the world show that mothers and their children are often judged and mistreated for presenting to facilities without clean or “modern” clothing, without soap or clean sheets to use in the hospital, or without gifts like sweets or candies for providers. Underfunded facilities may rely on income from those seeking care, but denying and shaming the poor further discriminates against vulnerable women and newborns, by placing additional financial burden on those already marginalized.

The culture of care needs to shift to create welcoming environments for all care-seekers, regardless of socio-economic status. No one should fear mistreatment, denial of services, or detainment due to lack of gifts or payments. There is an urgent need to ensure that health care centers are safe, friendly, respectful, and hospitable spaces for women, their newborns, and their families.