Background: Newborn mortality remains unacceptably high in many countries. Postnatal home visits (PNHVs) have been endorsed as a strategy for delivery of postnatal care (PNC) to reduce newborn mortality as well as to improve maternal outcomes. This paper reports on a review of coverage-related performance of such programs implemented at scale through government health services in Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Malawi, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Rwanda, Sri Lanka and Uganda.
Methods: We undertook a multi-country, mixed-method program review and used available survey and administrative data and key informant interviews to characterize performance of postnatal home visitation programs. In results presented in this paper, we have relied primarily on population-based surveys, notably Demographic and Health Surveys and Multi-Indicator Cluster Surveys. In addition, based on key informant interviews, we sought to understand the implementation challenges experienced delivering PNHVs, as well as responses to those challenges, in order to provide useful insights to countries to design home visitation programming when they can meet requirements for effective delivery at scale - and to identify other options when they cannot.
Results: Contact coverage of PNC within 48 hours of birth following home birth (the group most prioritized in these programs) is below 10% in most of the countries reviewed; in no country does it exceed 20%. Most country programs have been unable to achieve PNHV contact coverage that would have any meaningful impact on newborn or maternal mortality. Country responses to disappointing performance have varied: some continued programming unchanged, some suspended attempts to provide PNHVs, and others modified their strategies for providing postnatal care (PNC).
Conclusions: Policymakers and program managers need to consider seriously context and local feasibility when determining whether and how to use a strategy like PNHVs. At the global level, we need more than evidence of effectiveness (as determined through proof-of-concept trials) as a basis for formulating recommendations for how governments should provide services. We must also give serious attention to what can be learned from experience implementing at scale and place greater importance on feasibility of implementation in the real world.