Effect of participatory women's groups facilitated by Accredited Social Health Activists on birth outcomes in rural eastern India: a cluster-randomised controlled trial

Lancet Glob Health. 2016 Feb;4(2):e119-28. doi: 10.1016/S2214-109X(15)00287-9.


Background: A quarter of the world's neonatal deaths and 15% of maternal deaths happen in India. Few community-based strategies to improve maternal and newborn health have been tested through the country's government-approved Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHAs). We aimed to test the effect of participatory women's groups facilitated by ASHAs on birth outcomes, including neonatal mortality.

Methods: In this cluster-randomised controlled trial of a community intervention to improve maternal and newborn health, we randomly assigned (1:1) geographical clusters in rural Jharkhand and Odisha, eastern India to intervention (participatory women's groups) or control (no women's groups). Study participants were women of reproductive age (15-49 years) who gave birth between Sept 1, 2009, and Dec 31, 2012. In the intervention group, ASHAs supported women's groups through a participatory learning and action meeting cycle. Groups discussed and prioritised maternal and newborn health problems, identified strategies to address them, implemented the strategies, and assessed their progress. We identified births, stillbirths, and neonatal deaths, and interviewed mothers 6 weeks after delivery. The primary outcome was neonatal mortality over a 2 year follow up. Analyses were by intention to treat. This trial is registered with ISRCTN, number ISRCTN31567106.

Findings: Between September, 2009, and December, 2012, we randomly assigned 30 clusters (estimated population 156 519) to intervention (15 clusters, estimated population n=82 702) or control (15 clusters, n=73 817). During the follow-up period (Jan 1, 2011, to Dec 31, 2012), we identified 3700 births in the intervention group and 3519 in the control group. One intervention cluster was lost to follow up. The neonatal mortality rate during this period was 30 per 1000 livebirths in the intervention group and 44 per 1000 livebirths in the control group (odds ratio [OR] 0.69, 95% CI 0·53-0·89).

Interpretation: ASHAs can successfully reduce neonatal mortality through participatory meetings with women's groups. This is a scalable community-based approach to improving neonatal survival in rural, underserved areas of India.

Funding: Big Lottery Fund (UK).

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Accreditation
  • Adult
  • Developing Countries
  • Female
  • Health Personnel*
  • Health Promotion / methods*
  • Humans
  • India / epidemiology
  • Infant
  • Infant Health*
  • Infant Mortality
  • Maternal Health*
  • Maternal-Child Health Services*
  • Odds Ratio
  • Perinatal Death
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Outcome*
  • Rural Population*
  • Stillbirth
  • Young Adult

Associated data

  • ISRCTN/ISRCTN31567106