The mean age of FGD participants was 41 years and their average professional experience 13 years. Most participants were female (93.1%), nurses and midwives represented the majority of participants (Table 1). Key informants were senior program leaders at national and regional/district level working in the field of diabetes and/or maternal health (n=5) and clinicians involved in diabetes care at referral level (n=2). Our results revealed the challenges providers face when screening and managing GDM but also the motivational leverage such an additional task can provide. The following themes emerged from the data: acceptability and accessibility of screening, importance of communication and collaboration, challenges with the management of GDM, need for service re-organization and gain in motivation (Table 2).
Acceptability of screening
We identified three issues in relation to the acceptance of screening: the perception of the disease by the patients, as well as enabling factors and barriers to screening at provider level.
Having a ‘disease’ in pregnancy is difficult to accept and might be a reason not to return for further ANC visits because of the anxiety associated with not being healthy. For some women the diagnosis was shocking. Stigma associated with the term diabetes relates to the association of ‘diabetes’ with a life-long handicap, the need for insulin or fear of complications in relation to pregnancy.
"She cried- a woman with a history of a child who died and another child who is sick. When I told her she has gestational diabetes, she cried.” (FGD participant, control site)
Therefore, the use of terminology is very important and can reduce not only fear and stigma associated with the term ‘diabetes’ but also places gestational diabetes in the right context. Some of the nurses told us that they avoid using ‘diabetes’ in their explanations.
"Most of the time I do not pronounce the word diabetes. I tell her 'you have a sugar level that is a bit high. A pregnant woman should not have such a level […].” (FGD participant, control site)
Given the high prevalence of diabetes in Morocco, some women already have diabetic relatives. Being familiar with high blood sugar levels of diabetic family members, the lower values for the diagnosis of gestational diabetes (0.92g/l), gave them a false sense of security.
“For them 1g is nothing, because they have diabetics in their family. When one has 1g, 1.5g that’s nothing at all […]. So, they left and consulted others, specialists.” (FGD participant, control site)
Perceived barriers to screening included waiting times for testing and the perceived long procedure of the oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT). Providers mentioned however that raising awareness about GDM increases demand for and acceptance of screening. Nurses of the intervention sites stated that offering extended services in the health centers, including free tests for GDM screening, not only reduce delays, but also attract more women to ANC and increase client satisfaction.
"Before: the woman came: just weight, height. Now, she is aware that something is being done for her and she is satisfied with the service she is given.” (FGD participant, intervention site)
Respondents also mentioned that screening at the health center is more acceptable to women, as ANC providers are often already familiar with the women through current or previous pregnancies.
Accessibility of testing
Availability of screening services, but also geographical, financial and cultural factors determine access to testing. Particularly at the rural sites, costs for transport to the health facility impaired accessibility. Lack of decision-making power implied that some women first had to get the permission of their husbands before being tested.
“Especially in our population it is the husband who decides for the woman, and the mother in law who decides for her, if she can go and do her blood tests or not.” (FGD participant, intervention site)”
Not all women were fasting when attending ANC and had to return for another screening appointment. Some women visited the health center only very late in pregnancy thus limiting the possibility to be screened for GDM.
Communication and collaboration needs
Providers, but also family and peers play an important role in the support of women diagnosed with GDM. Communication and collaboration within and between these groups are essential for a positive GDM response in addition to the sensitization of the population. Husbands and family in particular play a crucial role for the acceptance of the condition and for assuring follow-up. Several respondents mentioned the importance to involve family members in counselling.
“The woman tells me ‘you have to explain it to my husband’ because the husband told her ‘you are not diabetic; these values are not high’ […]. Therefore, I have to explain her husband why he needs to bring her to attend the follow-up.” (Key informant)
In addition to family support, providers highlighted that women benefit from peer support by other women with GDM. Therefore, some of the providers organized follow-up in their services in such a way that affected women, including newly diagnosed, could meet and exchange experiences.
“[…] She will speak about her experience, she will speak about her failures and successes […] It is extremely motivating for other people to listen to this patient and ask practical questions. […] When a doctor or a nurse speaks, they still remain educators, he or she did not experience gestational diabetes […].” (Key informant)
Respondents highlighted the need for transparency in communication with the women, to provide education and inform them about the meaning of their glucose values. Nurses and midwives often used their mobile phones to communicate with the women if further questions arose but also to make appointments with specialists if needed.
The perceived lack of knowledge about gestational diabetes in the general population would require sensitization about GDM in general and the possibility to be tested. GDM is not covered by the media which was considered by one health care provider a missed opportunity in support of their educational tasks.
"If the media plays its part, it is much easier. If people knew what gestational diabetes is, the risks and everything, we could have services such as those we have recently for breast cancer. Women come alone to ask for screening, because they heard that on TV.” (FGD participant, control site)
The lack of knowledge is not only confined to the population. Even health care providers have limited information about gestational diabetes and latest diagnostic criteria. Often, they use the same diagnostic thresholds for gestational diabetes as for diabetes. This was reported for women who attended the private for-profit sector or other health facilities not included in the study. The advice given there stood often in contrast to the information women received in the study health facilities.
“It's a problem with the private [sector]. […] When she consulted the private [provider], she had a blood glucose of 1,1 [g/l] and they tell her ‘You have nothing. They are doing a study, they lie to you to earn money […]’. They disgrace us and we are in conflict with each other. And this is not good, because public health cannot do everything and idem for the private sector. We have to be complementary.” (FGD participant, control site)
However, a disagreement can also be an opportunity for behavioral change. Informal conversations with nurses of some of the health centers during our supervision revealed that several private providers around their centers started diagnosing women with GDM based on a fasting glycemia level of 0.92 g/l which was not the case before. This change in practice originating in the public sector and being taken up by private providers is a positive development that reaffirms nurses working in the public centers.
"By creating conflict, one creates the truth. […] It will simply result in the change of attitude of this [private] physician towards reality […]. He will go and look at the topic of gestational diabetes. […] Maybe the doctor will oppose once or twice. But considering the frequency of gestational diabetes he will realize that the nurse or the doctor or the midwife at the health center is right. So, it's maybe positive that this way of managing [GDM] will exceed the public sector and reaches even the private [sector]."(Key informant)
Providers mentioned the adherence to nutritional advice as one of the management challenges. After a woman is diagnosed with GDM, the first treatment usually consists of nutritional therapy coupled with physical exercise. Nutritional counselling including information on food preparation and how to integrate the diet into the family meals needed particular consideration.
“To ask her to eat alone in front of the family, of her husband, depresses her. For example, when you ask her to eat alone, her husband loses his respect for her, even the mother-in-law. […] It is better to ask her what she eats and adapt her diet to that and let her eat with her husband and children.” (FGD participant, intervention site)
For the purpose of this study, the Ministry of Health developed for women with GDM a brochure on nutrition. However, nurses in rural areas found its recommendations particularly difficult to follow, because these did not consider financial constraints to purchase certain food items. Therefore, health care providers had to adapt recommendations to the socio-economic and local context of patients.
“When I explained to her what she was going to eat she was surprised. She told me she will be hungry. This was a poor woman, she had conflicts with her husband, conflicts with her mother-in-law and no means […]. We asked her what she normally eats to try and advise her a diet that was adapted to what was available for her and according to her means without the need to buy more items; step by step with the food she uses at home.” (FGD participant, intervention site)
Despite the difficulties for some women to follow a diet, the majority tried to adhere because they fear insulin. This was the card played out by some nurses to make women adhere to the diet.
“We insisted that they do physical exercise and follow a diet to avoid proceeding to a treatment with insulin. We explained to them that ‘otherwise you are obliged to be treated with insulin’. This has pushed patients to adhere.” (FGD participant, control site)
In Morocco, only insulin is currently approved as treatment for women whose gestational diabetes is not sufficiently controlled by diet alone. However, not all doctors feel comfortable with insulin prescriptions.
"I think what is worrying and what scares the caregiver is to manage also insulin. Is it the patient who is afraid of insulin or is it the doctor who is afraid of insulin? So, it leads to this therapeutic inertia. […] So, if metformin is available, the management is more flexible, it will make things easy."(Key informant)
Adding GDM screening and follow up to the already full work schedule of ANC providers often needed some re-organization of services in the intervention facilities. To accommodate GDM as an additional activity in their ANC schedule, some providers limited the number of women for GDM screening and follow-up and organized additional sessions for testing.
“I tried to make a planning. For example, I do one or two sessions a week. I note the names of the women I have summoned, for example 5 to 6 women per session, just to limit this problem. Because really, it coincides with my other daily activities […].” (FGD participant, intervention site)
In the discussions, the issue of workload and task shifting came up several times. Some providers reported problems to delegate their task of GDM screening and follow-up when on leave, as only two providers per center (nurse/midwife and doctor) were trained in the intervention.
“Someone must be able to work in my place. If I get sick or go on leave, the program stops. […]. It is necessary that everyone knows how to conduct this activity, not a single person in the center. If she is not there, everything stops.” (FGD participant, intervention site)
Given the additional tasks, including increased documentation requirements, most respondents underlined the importance of GDM screening and management training of all providers involved in providing care to pregnant women.
Gain in motivation
All the above-mentioned aspects reflect the extra burden of this activity for ANC providers in terms of time management and service organization. Nevertheless, the motivational effect of incorporating GDM screening and management came up as an important facet of this intervention.
Providers highlighted that screening and regular follow-up improved trust and their relationship with the patients.
“This study gave great importance and value to our ANC, because the women do not only come to measure uterine height, weight and do ultrasound. There is an additional activity that strengthens the relation with the woman, because she spends the entire morning at our center with the midwife.” (FGD participant, intervention site)
ANC providers felt motivated and valued by their patients and gained in esteem and recognition for their provided services.
“Really, I feel useful doing something with these women…[…]. I feel that on a personal level I learnt new things I did not know before. I acquired additional information. Really this affects even your relationship with the woman. You have more confidence. You offer her something you did not know about before. […] When you speak with the woman at ease and you provide her with useful information, she trusts you, she asks you questions. At this moment, in this situation you feel that you are useful and motivated to do more things despite the workload and all that.” (FGD participant, intervention site)
Another important aspect underlined by several nurse-midwives in the intervention facilities was a gain in autonomy and the strengthening of their role in the center.
“I felt that the role of a midwife is no longer limited to making the detection of a pregnancy at risk, to leave the decision making to the doctor, [that] I work and do the paperwork and then the doctor takes the decision. I liked it that it is me now to take the decision.” (FGD participant, intervention site)
This autonomy affected also the doctors of the health center as they felt more involved in decision making.
“It is not only the midwife who thinks that she became important, even the general practitioners realized this. When they found a pregnant woman with a GDM they referred her. Now we take a decision […]. We begin to conduct searches, we make contact with the endocrinologists, they tell us what to do. We have the impression that we became half-endocrinologists. It is motivating. […] And the women are satisfied […]” (FGD participant, intervention site)
Finally, as one respondent puts it, all is about working as a team in the health facility to provide the best services to the patients.
“It is important […] that everybody finds one’s place and that the medical doctor doesn’t think that the nurse or midwife takes his place. She completes his actions and they must work with a team spirit.” (Key informant)