In 2014, the Government of India (GOI) released operational guidelines on the use of antenatal corticosteroids (ACS) in preterm labor. However, without ensuring the quality of childbirth and newborn care at facilities, the use of ACS in low- and middle-income countries is potentially harmful. This study assessed the readiness to provide ACS at primary and secondary care public health facilities in northern India.
A cross-sectional study was conducted in 37 public health facilities in 2 districts of Haryana, India. Facility processes and program implementation for ACS delivery were assessed using pretested study tools developed from the World Health Organization (WHO) quality of care standards and WHO guidelines for threatened preterm birth.
Key gaps in public health facilities’ process of care to provide ACS for threatened preterm birth were identified, particularly concerning evidence-based practices, competent workforce, and actionable health information system. Emphasis on accurate gestational age estimation, quality of childbirth care, and quality of preterm care were inadequate. Shortage of trained staff was widespread, and a disconnect was found between knowledge and attitudes regarding ACS use. ACS administration was provided only at district or subdistrict hospitals, and these facilities did not uniformly record ACS-specific indicators. All levels lacked a comprehensive protocol and job aids for identifying and managing threatened preterm birth.
ACS operational guidelines were not widely disseminated or uniformly implemented. Facilities require strengthened supervision and standardization of threatened preterm birth care. Facilities need greater readiness to meet required conditions for ACS use. Increasing uptake of a single intervention without supporting it with adequate quality of maternal and newborn care will jeopardize improvement in preterm birth outcomes. We recommend updating and expanding the existing GOI ACS operational guidelines to include specific actions for the safe and effective use of ACS in line with recent scientific evidence.