Background: About half of births in rural Tanzania are assisted by skilled providers. Point-of-care mobile phone applications hold promise in boosting job support for community health workers aiming to ensure safe motherhood through increased facility delivery awareness, access and uptake. We conducted a controlled comparison to evaluate a smartphone-based application designed to assist community health workers with data collection, education delivery, gestational danger sign identification, and referrals.
Methods: Community health workers in 32 randomly selected villages were cluster-randomized to training on either smartphone (intervention) or paper-based (control) protocols for use during household visits with pregnant women. The primary outcome measure was postnatal report of delivery location by 572 women randomly selected to participate in a survey conducted by home visit. A mixed-effects model was used to account for clustering of subjects and other measured factors influencing facility delivery.
Findings: The smartphone intervention was associated with significantly higher facility delivery: 74% of mothers in intervention areas delivered at or in transit to a health facility, versus 63% in control areas. The odds of facility delivery among women counseled by smartphone-assisted health workers were double the odds among women living in control villages (OR, 1.96; CI, 1.21-3.19; adjusted analyses). Women in intervention areas were more likely to receive two or more visits from a community health worker during pregnancy than women in the control group (72% vs. 60%; chi-square = 6.9; p < 0.01). Previous facility delivery, uptake of antenatal care, and distance to the nearest facility were also strong independent predictors of facility delivery.
Interpretation: Community health worker use of smartphones increased facility delivery, likely through increased frequency of prenatal home visits. Smartphone-based job aids may enhance community health worker support and effectiveness as one component of intervention packages targeting safe motherhood.
Trial registration: NCT03161184.