“They Merely Prescribe and I Merely Swallow”: Perceptions of Antenatal Pharmaceuticals and Nutritional Supplements Among Pregnant Women in Bamako, Mali

  • Alexandra R. SearleEmail author
  • Emily A. Hurley
  • Seydou O. Doumbia
  • Peter J. Winch



New international guidelines for antenatal care (ANC) will likely result in an increase in nutritional supplements and preventative medications for pregnant women in low and middle-income countries. Our objective was to understand how pregnant women in Mali perceive and experience multi-drug regimens in ANC in order to reveal factors that may influence uptake and adherence.


We conducted 29 semi-structured interviews and three focus groups with 21 pregnant women in two urban ANC sites in Bamako, Mali. Interviews focused on perception of purpose of ANC pharmaceuticals (particularly iron supplements, sulfadoxine-pyrimethamine as intermittent prevention of malaria and antiretroviral therapy for HIV), beliefs regarding efficacy and risk, and understanding of dosage and regimen. Transcripts were inductively coded and analyzed using the ‘Framework’ method.


Participant descriptions of medication purpose, understanding of dosing, and beliefs about risks and efficacy varied widely, revealing that many pregnant women lack complete information about their medications. While some were burdened by side effects or complex regimens, women generally held favorable attitudes toward ANC medications. Responses suggest major barriers to adherence lie in the health system, namely insufficient patient-provider communication and inconsistent prescribing practices.

Conclusions for Practice

National health programs looking to improve maternal and child health with ANC pharmaceuticals need to place greater attention on patient counseling and consistent implementation of administration guidelines. Communication that positions pharmaceuticals as beneficial to mother and child, while presenting understandable information about purpose, dosing and potential side effects can promote uptake of multi-drug regimens and ANC services in general.


Antenatal care Sub-Saharan Africa Adherence Malaria Antiretroviral therapy Micronutrient supplements 



Funding was provided by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Fogarty International Center (Grant No. 1R21TW009885-01) and National Institute of Mental Health (Grant No. 1F31MH106398).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of International HealthJohns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public HealthBaltimoreUSA
  2. 2.Health Services and Outcomes ResearchChildren’s Mercy Kansas CityKansas CityUSA
  3. 3.Faculty of Medicine and OdontostomatologyUniversity of Sciences, Techniques, and Technologies of BamakoBamakoMali

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