Objectives: To assess the effect of child health days (CHDs) on coverage of child survival interventions, to document country experiences with CHDs and to identify ways in which CHDs have strengthened or depleted primary health care (PHC) services.
Methods: Programme evaluation in six countries in sub-Saharan Africa using both quantitative (review of routine child health indicators) and qualitative (key informant interviews) methods.
Results: We found that CHDs have raised the profile of child survival at different levels from central government to the community in all six countries. The approach has increased the coverage of vitamin A supplementation and immunizations, especially in previously poorly performing countries. However, similar improvements have not occurred in non-CHD interventions, most notably exclusive breastfeeding. There were examples of duplication, especially in the capturing and use of health information. There was widespread evidence that PHC staff were being diverted from their usual PHC functions, and managers reported being distracted by the time required for the planning and execution of CHDs. Finally, there were examples of where the routine PHC system is becoming distorted through, for example, the payment of health worker incentives during CHD activities only.
Conclusion: Interventions such as CHDs can rapidly increase coverage of key child survival interventions; however, they need to do so in a manner that strengthens rather than depletes existing PHC services. Our findings suggest that stand alone child health day interventions may gradually need to be integrated with routine PHC through more general health system strengthening.