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Between fear and relief: how rural pregnant women experience foetal ultrasound in a Botswana district hospital


  • Tautz, Siegrid
  • Jahn, Albrecht
  • Molokomme, Imelda
  • Görgen, Regina


Ultrasound technology has achieved almost universal coverage in industrialised countries with particular importance in antenatal surveillance. Its routine use has, however, been viewed critically from medical as well as from sociological perspectives. Studies on women's perception of ultrasound underline the crucial role of client-provider communication supporting the technical procedure. Ultrasound is now increasingly available in developing countries. Little is known about how clients in these settings perceive the technology. This study was concerned with women's experience of ultrasound scanning in an African district hospital setting and how their experience concurs with the health professionals' views about the new technology. The study was qualitative and used semi-structured in-depth interviews with 41 clients and structured non-participant observation of the examination process, as well as semistructured interviews with health staff. Most women viewed ultrasound as being beneficial. Some expressed considerable fear. The quality of client-provider interaction played a decisive role in how the procedure was perceived. Many statements, however, reflect women's overestimation of the diagnostic power of ultrasound and prenatal therapeutic possibilities. Technology and its often expatriate providers tend to be mystified and at the same time non-technological procedures provided by local staff in the context of normal history taking and antenatal care undervalued. Health staff expressed very positive views of ultrasound. They admitted, however, that since the availability of ultrasound they were tempted to take histories and physical examinations less thoroughly than before. Irrational expectations from the clients' side and unindicated overuse of ultrasound by health professionals may in the long run interact in a way that possibly undermines the quality and rational utilisation of antenatal care and respective referral guidelines. Indications for the use of ultrasound must be clearly specified within specific societal contexts and mechanism of ensuring adherence to these criteria be established. Communication with patients and appropriate information about the benefits and limitations of ultrasound are essential to alleviate fear, and to discourage irrational expectations and demand.

Suggested Citation

  • Tautz, Siegrid & Jahn, Albrecht & Molokomme, Imelda & Görgen, Regina, 2000. "Between fear and relief: how rural pregnant women experience foetal ultrasound in a Botswana district hospital," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 50(5), pages 689-701, March.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:socmed:v:50:y:2000:i:5:p:689-701

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    Cited by:

    1. Gammeltoft, Tine & Nguyen, Hanh Thi Thuy, 2007. "Fetal conditions and fatal decisions: Ethical dilemmas in ultrasound screening in Vietnam," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 64(11), pages 2248-2259, June.


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