Objective: We found a high burden of morbidities in a cohort of neonates observed in rural Gadchiroli, India. We hypothesised that interventions would reduce the incidence of neonatal morbidities, including the seasonal increase observed in many of them. This article reports the effect of home-based neonatal care on neonatal morbidities in the intervention arm of the field trial by comparing the early vs late periods, and the possible explanation for this effect.
Methods: During 3 years (1995 to 1998), trained village-health-workers (VHWs) in 39 villages prospectively collected data by making home visits during pregnancy, home-delivery and during neonatal period. We estimated the incidence and burden of neonatal morbidities over the 3 years from these data. In the first year, the VHWs made home visits only to observe. From the second year, they assisted mothers in neonatal care and managed the sick neonates at home. Health education of mothers and family members, individually and in group, was added in the third year. We measured the coverage of interventions over the 3 years and evaluated maternal knowledge and practices on 21 indicators in the third year. The effect on 17 morbidities was estimated by comparing the incidence in the first year with the third year.
Results: The VHWs observed 763 neonates in the first year, 685 in the second and 913 in the third year. The change in the percent incidence of morbidities was (i) infections, from 61.6 to 27.5 (-55%; p<0.001), (ii) care-related morbidities (asphyxia, hypothermia, feeding problems) from 48.2 to 26.3 (-45%; p<0.001); (iii) low birth weight from 41.9 to 35.2 (-16%; p<0.05); (iv) preterm birth and congenital anomalies remained unchanged. The mean number of morbidities/100 neonates in the 3 years was 228, 170 and 115 (a reduction of 49.6%; p<0.001). These reductions accompanied an increasing percent score of interventions during 3 years: 37.9, 58.4 and 81.3, thus showing a dose-response relationship. In the third year, the proportion of correct maternal knowledge was 78.7% and behaviours was 69.7%. The significant seasonal increase earlier observed in the incidence of five morbidities reduced in the third year.
Conclusion: The home-based care and health education reduced the incidence and burden of neonatal morbidities by nearly half. The effect was broad, but was especially pronounced on infections, care-related morbidities and on the seasonal increase in morbidities.