Background: In 2001, the WHO Antenatal Care Trial (WHOACT) concluded that an antenatal care package of evidence-based screening, therapeutic interventions and education across four antenatal visits for low-risk women was not inferior to standard antenatal care and may reduce cost. However, an updated Cochrane review in 2010 identified an increased risk of perinatal mortality of borderline statistical significance in three cluster-randomized trials (including the WHOACT) in developing countries. We conducted a secondary analysis of the WHOACT data to determine the relationship between the reduced visits, goal-oriented antenatal care package and perinatal mortality.
Methods: Exploratory analyses were conducted to assess the effect of baseline risk and timing of perinatal death. Women were stratified by baseline risk to assess differences between intervention and control groups. We used linear modeling and Poisson regression to determine the relative risk of fetal death, neonatal death and perinatal mortality by gestational age.
Results: 12,568 women attended the 27 intervention clinics and 11,958 women attended the 26 control clinics. 6,160 women were high risk and 18,365 women were low risk. There were 161 fetal deaths (1.4%) in the intervention group compared to 119 fetal deaths in the control group (1.1%) with an increased overall adjusted relative risk of fetal death (Adjusted RR 1.27; 95% CI 1.03, 1.58). This was attributable to an increased relative risk of fetal death between 32 and 36 weeks of gestation (Adjusted RR 2.24; 95% CI 1.42, 3.53) which was statistically significant for high and low risk groups.
Conclusion: It is plausible the increased risk of fetal death between 32 and 36 weeks gestation could be due to reduced number of visits, however heterogeneity in study populations or differences in quality of care and timing of visits could also be playing a role. Monitoring maternal, fetal and neonatal outcomes when implementing antenatal care protocols is essential. Implementing reduced visit antenatal care packages demands careful monitoring of maternal and perinatal outcomes, especially fetal death.