Background: Most maternal deaths, intrapartum-related stillbirths, and newborn deaths in low income countries are preventable but simple, effective methods for improving safety in institutional births have not been devised. Checklist-based interventions aid management of complex or neglected tasks and have been shown to reduce harm in healthcare. We hypothesized that implementation of the WHO Safe Childbirth Checklist program, a novel childbirth safety program for institutional births incorporating a 29-item checklist, would increase delivery of essential childbirth practices linked with improved maternal and perinatal health outcomes.
Methods and findings: A pilot, pre-post-intervention study was conducted in a sub-district level birth center in Karnataka, India between July and December 2010. We prospectively observed health workers that attended to women and newborns during 499 consecutively enrolled birth events and compared these with observed practices during 795 consecutively enrolled birth events after the introduction of the WHO Safe Childbirth Checklist program. Twenty-nine essential practices that target the major causes of childbirth-related mortality, such as hand hygiene and uterotonic administration, were evaluated. The primary end point was the average rate of successful delivery of essential childbirth practices by health workers. Delivery of essential childbirth-related care practices at each birth event increased from an average of 10 of 29 practices at baseline (95%CI 9.4, 10.1) to an average of 25 of 29 practices afterwards (95%CI 24.6, 25.3; p<0.001). There was significant improvement in the delivery of 28 out of 29 individual practices. No adverse outcomes relating to the intervention occurred. Study limitations are the pre-post design, potential Hawthorne effect, and focus on processes of care versus health outcomes.
Conclusions: Introduction of the WHO Safe Childbirth Checklist program markedly improved delivery of essential safety practices by health workers. Future study will determine if this program can be implemented at scale and improve health outcomes.