Community health workers to improve uptake of maternal healthcare services: A cluster-randomized pragmatic trial in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

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Home delivery and late and infrequent attendance at antenatal care (ANC) are responsible for substantial avoidable maternal and pediatric morbidity and mortality in sub-Saharan Africa. This cluster-randomized trial aimed to determine the impact of a community health worker (CHW) intervention on the proportion of women who (i) visit ANC fewer than 4 times during their pregnancy and (ii) deliver at home.

Methods and findings

As part of a 2-by-2 factorial design, we conducted a cluster-randomized trial of a home-based CHW intervention in 2 of 3 districts of Dar es Salaam from 18 June 2012 to 15 January 2014. Thirty-six wards (geographical areas) in the 2 districts were randomized to the CHW intervention, and 24 wards to the standard of care. In the standard-of-care arm, CHWs visited women enrolled in prevention of mother-to-child HIV transmission (PMTCT) care and provided information and counseling. The intervention arm included additional CHW supervision and the following additional CHW tasks, which were targeted at all pregnant women regardless of HIV status: (i) conducting home visits to identify pregnant women and refer them to ANC, (ii) counseling pregnant women on maternal health, and (iii) providing home visits to women who missed an ANC or PMTCT appointment. The primary endpoints of this trial were the proportion of pregnant women (i) not making at least 4 ANC visits and (ii) delivering at home. The outcomes were assessed through a population-based household survey at the end of the trial period. We did not collect data on adverse events. A random sample of 2,329 pregnant women and new mothers living in the study area were interviewed during home visits. At the time of the survey, the mean age of participants was 27.3 years, and 34.5% (804/2,329) were pregnant. The proportion of women who reported having attended fewer than 4 ANC visits did not differ significantly between the intervention and standard-of-care arms (59.1% versus 60.7%, respectively; risk ratio [RR]: 0.97; 95% CI: 0.82–1.15; p = 0.754). Similarly, the proportion reporting that they had attended ANC in the first trimester did not differ significantly between study arms. However, women in intervention wards were significantly less likely to report having delivered at home (3.9% versus 7.3%; RR: 0.54; 95% CI: 0.30–0.95; p = 0.034). Mixed-methods analyses of additional data collected as part of this trial suggest that an important reason for the lack of effect on ANC outcomes was the perceived high economic burden and inconvenience of attending ANC. The main limitations of this trial were that (i) the outcomes were ascertained through self-report, (ii) the study was stopped 4 months early due to a change in the standard of care in the other trial that was part of the 2-by-2 factorial design, and (iii) the sample size of the household survey was not prespecified.


A home-based CHW intervention in urban Tanzania significantly reduced the proportion of women who reported having delivered at home, in an area that already has very high uptake of facility-based delivery. The intervention did not affect self-reported ANC attendance. Policy makers should consider piloting, evaluating, and scaling interventions to lessen the economic burden and inconvenience of ANC.

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