Routine antenatal ultrasound in low- and middle-income countries: first look - a cluster randomised trial

BJOG. 2018 Nov;125(12):1591-1599. doi: 10.1111/1471-0528.15287. Epub 2018 Jun 15.


Objective: Ultrasound is widely regarded as an important adjunct to antenatal care (ANC) to guide practice and reduce perinatal mortality. We assessed the impact of ANC ultrasound use at health centres in resource-limited countries.

Design: Cluster randomised trial.

Setting: Clusters within five countries (Democratic Republic of Congo, Guatemala, Kenya, Pakistan, and Zambia) METHODS: Clusters were randomised to standard ANC or standard care plus two ultrasounds and referral for complications. The study trained providers in intervention clusters to perform basic obstetric ultrasounds.

Main outcome measures: The primary outcome was a composite of maternal mortality, maternal near-miss mortality, stillbirth, and neonatal mortality.

Results: During the 24-month trial, 28 intervention and 28 control clusters had 24 263 and 23 160 births, respectively; 78% in the intervention clusters received at least one study ultrasound; 60% received two. The prevalence of conditions noted including twins, placenta previa, and abnormal lie was within expected ranges. 9% were referred for an ultrasound-diagnosed condition, and 71% attended the referral. The ANC (RR 1.0 95% CI 1.00, 1.01) and hospital delivery rates for complicated pregnancies (RR 1.03 95% CI 0.89, 1.20) did not differ between intervention and control clusters nor did the composite outcome (RR 1.09 95% CI 0.97, 1.23) or its individual components.

Conclusions: Despite availability of ultrasound at ANC in the intervention clusters, neither ANC nor hospital delivery for complicated pregnancies increased. The composite outcome and the individual components were not reduced.

Tweetable abstract: Antenatal care ultrasound did not improve a composite outcome that included maternal, fetal, and neonatal mortality.

Keywords: antenatal care; low-/middle-income countries; perinatal mortality; ultrasound.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Cluster Analysis
  • Developing Countries
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant Mortality
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Maternal Mortality
  • Maternal-Child Health Services*
  • Medically Underserved Area*
  • Perinatal Care*
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications / diagnostic imaging*
  • Pregnancy Complications / mortality
  • Ultrasonography, Prenatal*
  • Young Adult