Home visits by community health workers (CHWs) during pregnancy and soon after delivery are recommended to improve newborn survival. However, as the roles of CHWs expand, there are concerns regarding the capacity of community health systems to deliver high effective coverage of home visits. The WHO’s Rapid Access Expansion (RAcE) program supported the Malawi Ministry of Health to align their Community-Based Maternal and Newborn Care (CBMNC) package with the latest WHO guidelines and to implement and evaluate the feasibility and coverage of home visits in Ntcheu district.
A population-based survey of 150 households in Ntcheu district was conducted in July-August 2016 after approximately 10 months of CBMNC implementation. Thirty clusters were selected proportional-to-size using the most recent census. In selected clusters, five households with mothers of children under six months of age were randomly selected for interview. The Health Surveillance Assistants (HSAs) providing community-based services to the same clusters were purposively selected for a structured interview and register review.
Less than one third of pregnant women (30.7%; 95% confidence interval CI = 21.7%-41.5%) received a home visit during pregnancy and only 20.7% (95% CI = 13.0%-29.4%) received the recommended two visits. Coverage of postnatal visits was even lower: 11.4% (95%CI = 6.8%18.5%) of mothers and newborns received a visit within three days of delivery and 20.7% (95%CI = 12.7%-32.0%) received a visit within the first eight days. Reaching newborns soon after delivery requires timely participation of the family and/or health facility staff to notify the HSA – yet only 42.9% (95% CI = 33.4%-52.9%) of mothers reported that the HSA was informed of the delivery. Coverage of postnatal home visits among those who informed the HSA was significantly higher than among those in which the HSA was not informed (46.7% compared to 1.3%; P = 0.00). Most HSAs had the necessary equipment and supplies and were active in CBMNC: 83.9% (95% CI = 70.2%-97.6%) of HSAs had pregnancy home visits and 77.4% (95% CI = 61.8%-93.0%) had postnatal home visits documented in their registers for the previous three months.
We found low coverage of home visits during pregnancy and soon after delivery in a well-supported program delivery environment. Most HSAs were conducting home visits, but not at the level needed to reach high coverage. These findings were similar to previous studies, calling into question the feasibility of the current visitation schedule. It is time to re-align the CBMNC package with what the existing platform can deliver and identify strategies to better support HSAs to implement home visits to those who would benefit most.