Health system and community level interventions for improving antenatal care coverage and health outcomes
What is the issue?
The World Health Organization recommends at least four antenatal visits for all pregnant women. Almost half of pregnant women worldwide miss out on this level of care, and this is more problematic in low- and middle-income countries.
Why is this important?
Healthcare during pregnancy is a priority because poor antenatal attendance is associated with delivery of low birthweight babies and more newborn deaths. Antenatal care also provides opportunity for nutritional and health checks, such as whether a woman has a disease like malaria or has been exposed to infectious diseases such as HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) or syphilis.
What evidence did we find?
We reviewed randomised controlled trials that tested ways to improve the uptake of antenatal care during pregnancy. Some trials tested community-based interventions (media campaigns, education on self and infant care or financial incentives for pregnant women to attend antenatal care), while other trials looked at health systems interventions (home visits for pregnant women or provision of equipment for clinics). We included 34 trials with approximately 400,000 women. Most trials took place in low- and middle-income countries, and most trials were conducted in a way that made us feel confident about trusting the published reports. We assessed 30 of the 34 trials as of low or unclear overall risk of bias. The quality rating (high, moderate or low) shows our level of confidence that the result is robust and meaningful.
Trials comparing one intervention with no intervention
Single interventions only marginally improved the numbers of women attending four antenatal visits (high quality). Interventions did not improve rates of maternal death (low quality), baby deaths (moderate quality) or low birthweight (high quality). Even so, interventions led to modest improvements in the number of women who had at least one antenatal visit (moderate quality) and who delivered in a health facility (high quality). The number of women who received intermittent preventive treatment for malaria was not reported.
Trials comparing two or more interventions with no intervention
Combined interventions did not improve the number of women with four or more visits (low quality), or reduce maternal deaths (moderate quality). Nor did it increase the number of women who delivered in a health facility (moderate quality). However, more women who received combined interventions had one or more antenatal visits (moderate quality); there were also fewer baby deaths (moderate quality) and fewer low birthweight babies (moderate quality). The number of women who received intermittent preventive treatment for malaria was not reported.
We found no evidence that trials of community interventions worked differently from trials of health systems interventions.
Trials comparing one intervention with another intervention - there were no trials for this comparison.
Trials comparing one intervention with a combination of interventions - There was no difference in the number of women attending four or more antenatal visits (and at least one visit), maternal deaths, baby deaths, the number of deliveries in a health facility or the number of women who received intermittent preventive treatment for malaria.
What does this mean?
Single interventions may improve antenatal care coverage (women attending at least one visit and women attending four or more visits) and encourage women to give birth to their babies in health facilities. Combined interventions may also improve antenatal care coverage (at least one visit), reduce baby deaths and reduce the number of babies born with low birthweight.
We recommend that further studies of pregnant women and women in their reproductive years use combinations of interventions to maximise impact and look at outcomes that are important to the women themselves, such as maternal and baby deaths or ill health and the use of healthcare services.
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