Objective: Observations on a cohort of neonates in the preintervention year of the field trial of home-based neonatal care (HBNC) in rural Gadchiroli, India, showed that preterm birth and low birth weight (LBW), <2500 g, constituted the most important risk factors. Owing to a limited access to hospital care, most neonates were managed at home in the subsequent intervention years. The objective of this paper is to evaluate the feasibility and effectiveness of managing LBW and preterm neonates in home setting.
Design: We retrospectively analyzed data from the intervention arm (39 villages) in the HBNC trial. Feasibility was assessed by coverage and by quality (19 indicators) of care. Effectiveness was evaluated by change in case fatality (CF) and in the incidence of comorbidities in LBW or preterm neonates by comparing the preintervention year (1995 to 1996) with the intervention years (1996 to 2003).
Results: During 1996 to 2003, total 5919 live births occurred in the intervention villages, out of whom 5510 (93%) received HBNC. These included 2015 LBW neonates and 533 preterm neonates, out of whom 97% received only home-based care. The coverage and quality of interventions assessed on 19 indicators was 80.5%. The CF in LBW neonates declined by 58% (from 11.3 to 4.7%, p<0.001), and in preterm neonates, by 69.5% (from 33.3 to 10.2%, p<0.0001). Incidence of the major comorbidities, viz., sepsis, asphyxia, hypothermia and feeding problems, declined significantly. Preterm-LBW neonates without sepsis (270) received only supportive care -- CF in them decreased from 28.2 to 11.5% (p<0.01), and those with sepsis (53) received supportive care and antibiotics -- CF in them decreased from 61 to 13.2% (p<0.005). Supportive care contributed 75% and treatment with antibiotics 25% in the total averted deaths in preterm-LBW neonates. The intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR)-LBW neonates without sepsis (1409) received only supportive care -- the CF was unchanged, and 181 with sepsis received supportive care and antibiotics -- the CF decreased from 18.4 to 8.8% (p<0.05). Treatment with antibiotics explained entire reduction in mortality in IUGR neonates. In total, 55 deaths in LBW neonates were averted by supportive care and 35 by the treatment with antibiotics.
Conclusions: Home-based management of LBW and the preterm neonates is feasible and effective. It remarkably improved survival by preventing comorbidities, by supportive care, and by treating infections.