The emergence of the vertical birth in Ecuador: An analysis of agenda setting and policy windows for intercultural health

Ana Llamas, Susannah Mayhew

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Maternal mortality continues to claim the lives of thousands of women in Latin America despite the availability of effective treatments to avert maternal death. In the past, efforts to acknowledge cultural diversity in birth practices had not been clearly integrated into policy. However, in Otavalo (Ecuador) a local hospital pioneered the implementation of the 'Vertical Birth' - a practical manifestation of an intercultural health policy aimed at increasing indigenous women's access to maternity care. Drawing on agenda-setting theory, this qualitative research explores how the vertical birth practice made it onto the local policy agenda and the processes that allowed actors to seize a window of opportunity allowing the vertical birth practice to emerge. Our results show that the processes that brought about the vertical birth practice took place over a prolonged period of time and resulted from the interplay between various factors. Firstly, a maternal health policy community involving indigenous actors played a key role in identifying maternal mortality as a policy problem, defining its causes and framing it as an indigenous rights issue. Secondly, previous initiatives to address maternal mortality provided a wealth of experience that gave these actors the knowledge and experience to formulate a feasible policy solution and consolidate support from powerful actors. Thirdly, the election of a new government that had incorporated the demands of the indigenous movement opened up a window of opportunity to push intercultural health policies such as the vertical birth. We conclude that the socioeconomic and political changes at both national and local level allowed the meaningful participation of indigenous actors that made a critical contribution to the emergence of the vertical birth practice. These findings can help us advance our knowledge of strategies to set the agenda for intercultural maternal health policy and inform future policy in similar settings. Our results also show that Kingdon's model was useful in explaining how the VB practice emerged but also that it needs modifications when applied to low and middle income countries.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)683-690
Number of pages8
JournalHealth Policy and Planning
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Agenda setting
  • Ecuador
  • indigenous health
  • intercultural health
  • maternal health
  • policy


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