The equity impact of community women's groups to reduce neonatal mortality: a meta-analysis of four cluster randomized trials

Int J Epidemiol. 2019 Feb 1;48(1):168-182. doi: 10.1093/ije/dyx160.


Background: Socioeconomic inequalities in neonatal mortality are substantial in many developing countries. Little is known about how to address this problem. Trials in Asia and Africa have shown strong impacts on neonatal mortality of a participatory learning and action intervention with women's groups. Whether this intervention also reduces mortality inequalities remains unknown. We describe the equity impact of this women's groups intervention on the neonatal mortality rate (NMR) across socioeconomic strata.

Methods: We conducted a meta-analysis of all four participatory women's group interventions that were shown to be highly effective in cluster randomized trials in India, Nepal, Bangladesh and Malawi. We estimated intervention effects on NMR and health behaviours for lower and higher socioeconomic strata using random effects logistic regression analysis. Differences in effect between strata were tested.

Results: Analysis of 69120 live births and 2505 neonatal deaths shows that the intervention strongly reduced the NMR in lower (50-63% reduction depending on the measure of socioeconomic position used) and higher (35-44%) socioeconomic strata. The intervention did not show evidence of 'elite-capture': among the most marginalized populations, the NMR in intervention areas was 63% lower [95% confidence interval (CI) 48-74%] than in control areas, compared with 35% (95% CI: 15-50%) lower among the less marginalized in the last trial year (P-value for difference between most/less marginalized: 0.009). The intervention strongly improved home care practices, with no systematic socioeconomic differences in effect.

Conclusions: Participatory women's groups with high population coverage benefit the survival chances of newborns from all socioeconomic strata, and perhaps especially those born into the most deprived households.

Keywords: Developing countries; inequalities; infant mortality; intervention studies; obstetric.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Bangladesh
  • Community Participation
  • Community-Based Participatory Research
  • Developing Countries*
  • Female
  • Health Behavior
  • Humans
  • India
  • Infant
  • Infant Mortality*
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Malawi
  • Nepal
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Care*
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Socioeconomic Factors*
  • Women*