Background: Respiratory failure is a leading cause of neonatal mortality in the developing world. Bubble continuous positive airway pressure (bCPAP) is a safe, effective intervention for infants with respiratory distress and is widely used in developed countries. Because of its high cost, bCPAP is not widely utilized in low-resource settings. We evaluated the performance of a new bCPAP system to treat severe respiratory distress in a low resource setting, comparing it to nasal oxygen therapy, the current standard of care.
Methods: We conducted a non-randomized convenience sample study to test the efficacy of a low-cost bCPAP system treating newborns with severe respiratory distress in the neonatal ward of Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital, in Blantyre, Malawi. Neonates weighing >1,000 g and presenting with severe respiratory distress who fulfilled inclusion criteria received nasal bCPAP if a device was available; if not, they received standard care. Clinical assessments were made during treatment and outcomes compared for the two groups.
Findings: 87 neonates (62 bCPAP, 25 controls) were recruited. Survival rate for neonates receiving bCPAP was 71.0% (44/62) compared with 44.0% (11/25) for controls. 65.5% (19/29) of very low birth weight neonates receiving bCPAP survived to discharge compared to 15.4% (1/13) of controls. 64.6% (31/48) of neonates with respiratory distress syndrome (RDS) receiving bCPAP survived to discharge, compared to 23.5% (4/17) of controls. 61.5% (16/26) of neonates with sepsis receiving bCPAP survived to discharge, while none of the seven neonates with sepsis in the control group survived.
Interpretation: Use of a low-cost bCPAP system to treat neonatal respiratory distress resulted in 27% absolute improvement in survival. The beneficial effect was greater for neonates with very low birth weight, RDS, or sepsis. Implementing appropriate bCPAP devices could reduce neonatal mortality in developing countries.