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1.  A Multifaceted Intervention to Implement Guidelines and Improve Admission Paediatric Care in Kenyan District Hospitals: A Cluster Randomised Trial 
PLoS Medicine  2011;8(4):e1001018.
Philip Ayieko and colleagues report the outcomes of a cluster-randomized trial carried out in eight Kenyan district hospitals evaluating the effects of a complex intervention involving improved training and supervision for clinicians. They found a higher performance of hospitals assigned to the complex intervention on a variety of process of care measures, as compared to those receiving the control intervention.
Background
In developing countries referral of severely ill children from primary care to district hospitals is common, but hospital care is often of poor quality. However, strategies to change multiple paediatric care practices in rural hospitals have rarely been evaluated.
Methods and Findings
This cluster randomized trial was conducted in eight rural Kenyan district hospitals, four of which were randomly assigned to a full intervention aimed at improving quality of clinical care (evidence-based guidelines, training, job aides, local facilitation, supervision, and face-to-face feedback; n = 4) and the remaining four to control intervention (guidelines, didactic training, job aides, and written feedback; n = 4). Prespecified structure, process, and outcome indicators were measured at baseline and during three and five 6-monthly surveys in control and intervention hospitals, respectively. Primary outcomes were process of care measures, assessed at 18 months postbaseline.
In both groups performance improved from baseline. Completion of admission assessment tasks was higher in intervention sites at 18 months (mean = 0.94 versus 0.65, adjusted difference 0.54 [95% confidence interval 0.05–0.29]). Uptake of guideline recommended therapeutic practices was also higher within intervention hospitals: adoption of once daily gentamicin (89.2% versus 74.4%; 17.1% [8.04%–26.1%]); loading dose quinine (91.9% versus 66.7%, 26.3% [−3.66% to 56.3%]); and adequate prescriptions of intravenous fluids for severe dehydration (67.2% versus 40.6%; 29.9% [10.9%–48.9%]). The proportion of children receiving inappropriate doses of drugs in intervention hospitals was lower (quinine dose >40 mg/kg/day; 1.0% versus 7.5%; −6.5% [−12.9% to 0.20%]), and inadequate gentamicin dose (2.2% versus 9.0%; −6.8% [−11.9% to −1.6%]).
Conclusions
Specific efforts are needed to improve hospital care in developing countries. A full, multifaceted intervention was associated with greater changes in practice spanning multiple, high mortality conditions in rural Kenyan hospitals than a partial intervention, providing one model for bridging the evidence to practice gap and improving admission care in similar settings.
Trial registration
Current Controlled Trials ISRCTN42996612
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
In 2008, nearly 10 million children died in early childhood. Nearly all these deaths were in low- and middle-income countries—half were in Africa. In Kenya, for example, 74 out every 1,000 children born died before they reached their fifth birthday. About half of all childhood (pediatric) deaths in developing countries are caused by pneumonia, diarrhea, and malaria. Deaths from these common diseases could be prevented if all sick children had access to quality health care in the community (“primary” health care provided by health centers, pharmacists, family doctors, and traditional healers) and in district hospitals (“secondary” health care). Unfortunately, primary health care facilities in developing countries often lack essential diagnostic capabilities and drugs, and pediatric hospital care is frequently inadequate with many deaths occurring soon after admission. Consequently, in 1996, as part of global efforts to reduce childhood illnesses and deaths, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) introduced the Integrated Management of Childhood Illnesses (IMCI) strategy. This approach to child health focuses on the well-being of the whole child and aims to improve the case management skills of health care staff at all levels, health systems, and family and community health practices.
Why Was This Study Done?
The implementation of IMCI has been evaluated at the primary health care level, but its implementation in district hospitals has not been evaluated. So, for example, interventions designed to encourage the routine use of WHO disease-specific guidelines in rural pediatric hospitals have not been tested. In this cluster randomized trial, the researchers develop and test a multifaceted intervention designed to improve the implementation of treatment guidelines and admission pediatric care in district hospitals in Kenya. In a cluster randomized trial, groups of patients rather than individual patients are randomly assigned to receive alternative interventions and the outcomes in different “clusters” of patients are compared. In this trial, each cluster is a district hospital.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers randomly assigned eight Kenyan district hospitals to the “full” or “control” intervention, interventions that differed in intensity but that both included more strategies to promote implementation of best practice than are usually applied in Kenyan rural hospitals. The full intervention included provision of clinical practice guidelines and training in their use, six-monthly survey-based hospital assessments followed by face-to-face feedback of survey findings, 5.5 days training for health care workers, provision of job aids such as structured pediatric admission records, external supervision, and the identification of a local facilitator to promote guideline use and to provide on-site problem solving. The control intervention included the provision of clinical practice guidelines (without training in their use) and job aids, six-monthly surveys with written feedback, and a 1.5-day lecture-based seminar to explain the guidelines. The researchers compared the implementation of various processes of care (activities of patients and doctors undertaken to ensure delivery of care) in the intervention and control hospitals at baseline and 18 months later. The performance of both groups of hospitals improved during the trial but more markedly in the intervention hospitals than in the control hospitals. At 18 months, the completion of admission assessment tasks and the uptake of guideline-recommended clinical practices were both higher in the intervention hospitals than in the control hospitals. Moreover, a lower proportion of children received inappropriate doses of drugs such as quinine for malaria in the intervention hospitals than in the control hospitals.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings show that specific efforts are needed to improve pediatric care in rural Kenya and suggest that interventions that include more approaches to changing clinical practice may be more effective than interventions that include fewer approaches. These findings are limited by certain aspects of the trial design, such as the small number of participating hospitals, and may not be generalizable to other hospitals in Kenya or to hospitals in other developing countries. Thus, although these findings seem to suggest that efforts to implement and scale up improved secondary pediatric health care will need to include more than the production and dissemination of printed materials, further research including trials or evaluation of test programs are necessary before widespread adoption of any multifaceted approach (which will need to be tailored to local conditions and available resources) can be contemplated.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001018.
WHO provides information on efforts to reduce global child mortality and on Integrated Management of Childhood Illness (IMCI); the WHO pocket book “Hospital care for children contains guidelines for the management of common illnesses with limited resources (available in several languages)
UNICEF also provides information on efforts to reduce child mortality and detailed statistics on child mortality
The iDOC Africa Web site, which is dedicated to improving the delivery of hospital care for children and newborns in Africa, provides links to the clinical guidelines and other resources used in this study
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001018
PMCID: PMC3071366  PMID: 21483712
2.  A Multifaceted Intervention to Improve the Quality of Care of Children in District Hospitals in Kenya: A Cost-Effectiveness Analysis 
PLoS Medicine  2012;9(6):e1001238.
A cost-effective analysis conducted by Edwine Barasa and colleagues estimates that a complex intervention aimed at improving quality of pediatric care would be affordable and cost-effective in Kenya.
Background
To improve care for children in district hospitals in Kenya, a multifaceted approach employing guidelines, training, supervision, feedback, and facilitation was developed, for brevity called the Emergency Triage and Treatment Plus (ETAT+) strategy. We assessed the cost effectiveness of the ETAT+ strategy, in Kenyan hospitals. Further, we estimate the costs of scaling up the intervention to Kenya nationally and potential cost effectiveness at scale.
Methods and Findings
Our cost-effectiveness analysis from the provider's perspective used data from a previously reported cluster randomized trial comparing the full ETAT+ strategy (n = 4 hospitals) with a partial intervention (n = 4 hospitals). Effectiveness was measured using 14 process measures that capture improvements in quality of care; their average was used as a summary measure of quality. Economic costs of the development and implementation of the intervention were determined (2009 US$). Incremental cost-effectiveness ratios were defined as the incremental cost per percentage improvement in (average) quality of care. Probabilistic sensitivity analysis was used to assess uncertainty. The cost per child admission was US$50.74 (95% CI 49.26–67.06) in intervention hospitals compared to US$31.1 (95% CI 30.67–47.18) in control hospitals. Each percentage improvement in average quality of care cost an additional US$0.79 (95% CI 0.19–2.31) per admitted child. The estimated annual cost of nationally scaling up the full intervention was US$3.6 million, approximately 0.6% of the annual child health budget in Kenya. A “what-if” analysis assuming conservative reductions in mortality suggests the incremental cost per disability adjusted life year (DALY) averted by scaling up would vary between US$39.8 and US$398.3.
Conclusion
Improving quality of care at scale nationally with the full ETAT+ strategy may be affordable for low income countries such as Kenya. Resultant plausible reductions in hospital mortality suggest the intervention could be cost-effective when compared to incremental cost-effectiveness ratios of other priority child health interventions.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
According to latest global estimates from UNICEF, 7.6 million children currently die every year before they reach five years of age. Half of these deaths occur in children in sub-Saharan Africa and tragically, most of these deaths are due to a few treatable and preventable diseases, such as pneumonia, malaria, and diarrhea, for which effective interventions are already available. In order to meet the target of the 4th Millennium Development Goal—which aims to reduce the under-five child mortality rate by two-thirds from 1990 levels by 2015—delivering these interventions is essential.
In Kenya, the under-five child mortality rate must be reduced by half from its 2008 level in order to meet the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target and so improving the management of serious child illness might help achieve this goal. A study published last year in PLoS Medicine described such an approach and included the development and implementation of evidence-based clinical practice guidelines linked to health worker training, follow-up supervision, performance feedback, and facilitation in eight district hospitals in Kenya.
Why Was This Study Done?
In the study mentioned above, the researchers compared the implementation of various processes of care in intervention and control hospitals at baseline and 18 months later and found that performance improved more in the intervention hospitals than in the control hospitals. However, while this strategy was effective at improving the quality of health care, it is unclear whether scaling up the approach would be a good use of limited resources. So in this study, the same researchers performed a cost-effectiveness analysis (which they conducted alongside the original trial) of their quality improvement intervention and estimated the costs and effects of scaling up this approach to cover the entire population of Kenya.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
In order to perform the cost part of the analysis, the researchers collected the relevant information on costs by using clinical and accounting record reviews and interviews with those involved in developing and implementing the intervention. The researchers evaluated the effectiveness part of the analysis by comparing the implementation of their improved quality of care strategy as delivered in the intervention hospitals with the partial intervention as delivered in the control hospitals by calculating the mean percentage improvement in the 14 process of care indicators at 18 months. Finally, the researchers calculated the costs of scaling up the intervention by applying their results to the whole of Kenya—121 hospital facilities with an estimated annual child admission rate of 2,000 per facility.
The researchers found that the quality of care (as measured by the process of care indicators) was 25% higher in intervention hospitals than in control hospitals, while the cost per child admission was US$50.74 in intervention hospitals compared to US$31.1 in control hospitals. The researchers calculated that each percentage improvement in the average quality of care was achieved at an additional cost of US$0.79 per admitted child. Extrapolating these results to all of Kenya, the estimated annual cost of scaling up the intervention nationally was US$3.6 million, about 0.6% of the annual child health budget in Kenya.
What Do These Findings Mean?
The findings of this cost-effectiveness analysis suggests that a comprehensive quality improvement intervention is effective at improving standards of care but at an additional cost, which may be relatively cost effective compared with basic care if the improvements observed are associated with decreases in child inpatient mortality. The absolute costs for scaling up are comparable to, or even lower than, costs of other, major child health interventions. As the international community is giving an increasing focus to strengthening health systems, these findings provide a strong case for scaling up this intervention, which improves quality of care and service provision for the major causes of child mortality, in rural hospitals throughout Kenya and other district hospitals in sub-Saharan Africa.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001238.
The researchers' original article appeared in PLoS Medicine in 2011: Ayieko P, Ntoburi S, Wagai J, Opondo C, Opiyo N, et al. (2011) A Multifaceted Intervention to Implement Guidelines and Improve Admission Paediatric Care in Kenyan District Hospitals: A Cluster Randomised Trial. PLoS Med 8(4): e1001018. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001018
The IDOC Africa provides further information on the ETAT+ strategy
The World Health Organization (WHO) provides information on MDG 4, including strategies to reduce global child mortality) and the WHO pocket-book “Hospital care for children” includes guidelines for the management of common but serious childhood illnesses in resource-limited settings
UNICEF www.unicef.org also publishes information on global child mortality rates and the Countdown to 2015 website tracks coverage levels for health interventions proven to reduce child mortality
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001238
PMCID: PMC3373608  PMID: 22719233
3.  Drivers of Inequality in Millennium Development Goal Progress: A Statistical Analysis 
PLoS Medicine  2010;7(3):e1000241.
David Stuckler and colleagues examine the impact of the HIV and noncommunicable disease epidemics on low-income countries' progress toward the Millennium Development Goals for health.
Background
Many low- and middle-income countries are not on track to reach the public health targets set out in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). We evaluated whether differential progress towards health MDGs was associated with economic development, public health funding (both overall and as percentage of available domestic funds), or health system infrastructure. We also examined the impact of joint epidemics of HIV/AIDS and noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), which may limit the ability of households to address child mortality and increase risks of infectious diseases.
Methods and Findings
We calculated each country's distance from its MDG goals for HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and infant and child mortality targets for the year 2005 using the United Nations MDG database for 227 countries from 1990 to the present. We studied the association of economic development (gross domestic product [GDP] per capita in purchasing-power-parity), the relative priority placed on health (health spending as a percentage of GDP), real health spending (health system expenditures in purchasing-power-parity), HIV/AIDS burden (prevalence rates among ages 15–49 y), and NCD burden (age-standardised chronic disease mortality rates), with measures of distance from attainment of health MDGs. To avoid spurious correlations that may exist simply because countries with high disease burdens would be expected to have low MDG progress, and to adjust for potential confounding arising from differences in countries' initial disease burdens, we analysed the variations in rates of change in MDG progress versus expected rates for each country. While economic development, health priority, health spending, and health infrastructure did not explain more than one-fifth of the differences in progress to health MDGs among countries, burdens of HIV and NCDs explained more than half of between-country inequalities in child mortality progress (R2-infant mortality  = 0.57, R2-under 5 mortality  = 0.54). HIV/AIDS and NCD burdens were also the strongest correlates of unequal progress towards tuberculosis goals (R2 = 0.57), with NCDs having an effect independent of HIV/AIDS, consistent with micro-level studies of the influence of tobacco and diabetes on tuberculosis risks. Even after correcting for health system variables, initial child mortality, and tuberculosis diseases, we found that lower burdens of HIV/AIDS and NCDs were associated with much greater progress towards attainment of child mortality and tuberculosis MDGs than were gains in GDP. An estimated 1% lower HIV prevalence or 10% lower mortality rate from NCDs would have a similar impact on progress towards the tuberculosis MDG as an 80% or greater rise in GDP, corresponding to at least a decade of economic growth in low-income countries.
Conclusions
Unequal progress in health MDGs in low-income countries appears significantly related to burdens of HIV and NCDs in a population, after correcting for potentially confounding socioeconomic, disease burden, political, and health system variables. The common separation between NCDs, child mortality, and infectious syndromes among development programs may obscure interrelationships of illness affecting those living in poor households—whether economic (e.g., as money spent on tobacco is lost from child health expenditures) or biological (e.g., as diabetes or HIV enhance the risk of tuberculosis).
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
In 2000, 189 countries adopted the United Nations (UN) Millennium Declaration, which commits the world to the eradication of extreme poverty by 2015. The Declaration lists eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), 21 quantifiable targets, and 60 indicators of progress. So, for example, MDG 4 aims to reduce child mortality (deaths). The target for this goal is to reduce the number of children who die each year before they are five years old (the under-five mortality rate) to two-thirds of its 1990 value by 2015. Indicators of progress toward this goal include the under-five mortality rate and the infant mortality rate. Because poverty and ill health are inextricably linked—ill health limits the ability of individuals and nations to improve their economic status, and poverty contributes to the development of many illnesses—two other MDGs also tackle public health issues. MDG 5 sets a target of reducing maternal mortality by three-quarters of its 1990 level by 2015. MDG 6 aims to halt and begin to reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other major diseases such as tuberculosis by 2015.
Why Was This Study Done?
Although progress has been made toward achieving the MDGs, few if any of the targets are likely to be met by 2015. Worryingly, low-income countries are falling furthest behind their MDG targets. For example, although child mortality has been declining globally, in many poor countries there has been little or no progress. What is the explanation for this and other inequalities in progress toward the health MDGs? Some countries may simply lack the financial resources needed to combat epidemics or may allocate only a low proportion of their gross domestic product (GDP) to health. Alternatively, money allocated to health may not always reach the people who need it most because of an inadequate health infrastructure. Finally, coexisting epidemics may be hindering progress toward the MDG health targets. Thus, the spread of HIV/AIDS may be hindering attempts to limit the spread of tuberculosis because HIV infection increases the risk of active tuberculosis, and ongoing epidemics of diabetes and other noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) may be affecting the attainment of health MDGs by diverting scarce resources. In this study, the researchers investigate whether any of these possibilities is driving the inequalities in MDG progress.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers calculated how far 227 countries were from their MDG targets for HIV, tuberculosis, and infant and child mortality in 2005 using information collected by the UN. They then used statistical methods to study the relationship between this distance and economic development (GDP per person), health spending as a proportion of GDP (health priority), actual health system expenditures, health infrastructure, HIV burden, and NCD burden in each country. Economic development, health priority, health spending, and health infrastructure explained no more than one-fifth of the inequalities in progress toward health MDGs. By contrast, the HIV and NCD burdens explained more than half of inequalities in child mortality progress and were strongly associated with unequal progress toward tuberculosis goals. Furthermore, the researchers calculated that a 1% reduction in the number of people infected with HIV or a 10% reduction in rate of deaths from NCDs in a population would have a similar impact on progress toward the tuberculosis MDG target as a rise in GDP corresponding to at least a decade of growth in low-income countries.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings are limited by the quality of the available data on health indicators in low-income countries and, because the researchers used country-wide data, their findings only reveal possible drivers of inequalities in progress toward MDGs in whole countries and may mask drivers of within-country inequalities. Nevertheless, as one of the first attempts to analyze the determinants of global inequalities in progress toward the health MDGs, these findings have important implications for global health policy. Most importantly, the finding that unequal progress is related to the burdens of HIV and NCDs in populations suggests that programs designed to achieve health MDGs must consider all the diseases and factors that can trap households in vicious cycles of illness and poverty, especially since the achievement of feasible reductions in NCDs in low-income countries could greatly enhance progress towards health MDGs.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000241.
The United Nations Millennium Development Goals website provides detailed information about the Millennium Declaration, the MDGs, their targets and their indicators
The Millennium Development Goals Report 2009 and its progress chart provide an up-to-date assessment of progress towards the MDGs
The World Health Organization provides information about poverty and health and health and development
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000241
PMCID: PMC2830449  PMID: 20209000
4.  Essential Surgery at the District Hospital: A Retrospective Descriptive Analysis in Three African Countries 
PLoS Medicine  2010;7(3):e1000243.
In the first of two papers investigating surgical provision in eight district hospitals in Saharan African countries, Margaret Kruk and colleagues find low levels of surgical care provision suggesting unmet need for surgical services.
Background
Surgical conditions contribute significantly to the disease burden in sub-Saharan Africa. Yet there is an apparent neglect of surgical care as a public health intervention to counter this burden. There is increasing enthusiasm to reverse this trend, by promoting essential surgical services at the district hospital, the first point of contact for critical conditions for rural populations. This study investigated the scope of surgery conducted at district hospitals in three sub-Saharan African countries.
Methods and Findings
In a retrospective descriptive study, field data were collected from eight district hospitals in Uganda, Tanzania, and Mozambique using a standardized form and interviews with key informants. Overall, the scope of surgical procedures performed was narrow and included mainly essential and life-saving emergency procedures. Surgical output varied across hospitals from five to 45 major procedures/10,000 people. Obstetric operations were most common and included cesarean sections and uterine evacuations. Hernia repair and wound care accounted for 65% of general surgical procedures. The number of beds in the studied hospitals ranged from 0.2 to 1.0 per 1,000 population.
Conclusion
The findings of this study clearly indicate low levels of surgical care provision at the district level for the hospitals studied. The extent to which this translates into unmet need remains unknown although the very low proportions of live births in the catchment areas of these eight hospitals that are born by cesarean section suggest that there is a substantial unmet need for surgical services. The district hospital in the current health system in sub-Saharan Africa lends itself to feasible integration of essential surgery into the spectrum of comprehensive primary care services. It is therefore critical that the surgical capacity of the district hospital is significantly expanded; this will result in sustainable preventable morbidity and mortality.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Every year, about 234 million major surgical procedures take place globally. Of these procedures, only a quarter are performed in low- and middle-income countries where nearly three-quarters of the world's population lives. Put another way, in high-income countries, 10,110 people out of every 100,000 have surgery each year on average compared to only 295 people out of every 100,000 in low- and middle-income countries. Yet conditions that need surgery (including complications of childbirth and traumatic injuries) are common in developing countries and contribute significantly to the burden of disease in these countries. Various organizations are working to reduce this burden by improving emergency and essential surgical care in developing countries. For example, the Bellagio Essential Surgery Group (BESG), which includes experts in surgery, anesthesia, obstetrics (the branch of medicine that cares for women during pregnancy and childbirth), and health policy from several African countries, the World Health Organization (WHO), and the US, aims to increase access to surgical services in sub-Saharan Africa.
Why Was This Study Done?
One way to improve access to surgical services in sub-Saharan Africa would be to promote the provision of essential surgical services at district hospitals. These hospitals are the first referral facilities for people living in rural areas. Traditionally, patients receive much of their primary health care at these facilities but are referred to secondary and tertiary health care facilities (regional and national referral hospitals, respectively) for more specialized care. However, many surgical conditions—in particular, obstetric emergencies—need to be treated at district hospitals if lives are to be saved. Unfortunately, very little is known about the range and volume of surgical procedures currently undertaken in district hospitals in sub-Saharan Africa and such information is needed before programs can be developed to increase access to surgical services at these facilities. In this retrospective, descriptive study, the researchers (some of whom are part of the BESG) investigate the scope of surgery undertaken in district hospitals in three sub-Saharan African countries.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers obtained recent data on the surgical procedures done at two representative district hospitals each in Tanzania and in Mozambique and four representative district hospitals in Uganda by examining hospital records and by interviewing administrators. The observed range of surgical procedures performed in these hospitals was narrow, they report, consisting mainly of essential and life-saving emergency procedures such as cesarean sections for the delivery of babies and wound-related procedures. Obstetric procedures accounted for around half of all surgical procedures in all the hospitals except one Ugandan hospital. Hernia repair and wound care accounted for nearly two-thirds of general surgical procedures. The surgical output across the hospitals varied from five to 45 major procedures per 10,000 people in the population (average 25 operations per 10,000 people). Across the hospitals, between one and 17 cesarean sections and between 0.5 and seven hernia repairs were performed per 10,000 people in the population. Finally, the researchers used their data and WHO estimates of the population need for cesarean sections to estimate that in the two Tanzanian district hospitals, between half and two-thirds of women that needed a cesarean section did not have access to this life-saving procedure.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that there are low levels of provision of surgical care in district hospitals in Tanzania, Mozambique, and Uganda. Further studies are needed to confirm that these findings are generalizable to district hospitals elsewhere in sub-Saharan Africa and to quantify the extent to which this low level of surgical care translates into unmet needs. Limitations of the study include a lack of information on outcomes, on referral of patients to higher-level facilities, and on how many of the surgical procedures undertaken at these hospitals dealt with traumatic injuries. Nevertheless, the information collected in this study, together with that in a separate paper that investigates the availability of health workers and funding for the provision of essential surgery in district hospitals in these three countries, suggests that the surgical capacity of district hospitals in sub-Saharan Africa needs to be improved. If this goal can be achieved, suggest the researchers, it should avert many illnesses and deaths in this poor region of the world.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000243.
The availability of health workers and funding for surgery in the same hospitals is investigated in a PLoS Medicine Research Article by Margaret E. Kruk et al.
Information on the Bellagio Essential Surgery Group is available
WHO's Global initiative for Emergency and Essential Surgical Care plans to take essential emergency, basic surgery and anesthesia skills to health care staff in low- and middle-income countries around the world; WHO also has a page describing the importance of emergency and essential surgery in primary health care
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000243
PMCID: PMC2834708  PMID: 20231871
5.  Quality of Private and Public Ambulatory Health Care in Low and Middle Income Countries: Systematic Review of Comparative Studies 
PLoS Medicine  2011;8(4):e1000433.
Paul Garner and colleagues conducted a systematic review of 80 studies to compare the quality of private versus public ambulatory health care in low- and middle-income countries.
Background
In developing countries, the private sector provides a substantial proportion of primary health care to low income groups for communicable and non-communicable diseases. These providers are therefore central to improving health outcomes. We need to know how their services compare to those of the public sector to inform policy options.
Methods and Findings
We summarised reliable research comparing the quality of formal private versus public ambulatory health care in low and middle income countries. We selected studies against inclusion criteria following a comprehensive search, yielding 80 studies. We compared quality under standard categories, converted values to a linear 100% scale, calculated differences between providers within studies, and summarised median values of the differences across studies. As the results for for-profit and not-for-profit providers were similar, we combined them. Overall, median values indicated that many services, irrespective of whether public or private, scored low on infrastructure, clinical competence, and practice. Overall, the private sector performed better in relation to drug supply, responsiveness, and effort. No difference between provider groups was detected for patient satisfaction or competence. Synthesis of qualitative components indicates the private sector is more client centred.
Conclusions
Although data are limited, quality in both provider groups seems poor, with the private sector performing better in drug availability and aspects of delivery of care, including responsiveness and effort, and possibly being more client orientated. Strategies seeking to influence quality in both groups are needed to improve care delivery and outcomes for the poor, including managing the increasing burden of non-communicable diseases.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
The provision of private (“for-profit” hospitals and self-employed practitioners, and “not-for-profit” non-government providers, including faith-based organizations) versus public health care services in low and middle income countries raises considerable ideological debate. Ideological arguments aside—which can be very passionate on both sides—there is general agreement that improving the quality of both public and private health care could have a major impact on improved health outcomes, especially as the private sector is so widely used in low and middle income countries. For example, almost three quarters and half of children from the poorest households of South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, respectively, seek health care from a private provider when they are ill. Private providers are also increasingly responsible for outpatient care for non-communicable diseases.
As a result of the mixed health care system in many low and middle income countries, adequate oversight and stewardship of the mixed system from the national government is essential yet often missing.
Why Was This Study Done?
An understanding of how quality and performance in the private sector compares with that in the public sector would help governments to prioritize where they need to concentrate their efforts. So, for example, if the private sector is generally providing poorer quality care than the public sector, then there is an imperative to improve the quality and outcomes; on the other hand, if the quality of care offered by the private sector is good, the policy priority is to influence the market to further improve access to such health care for low income groups.
In order to help with this comparison, the researchers wanted to systematically identify and summarize the results of studies that directly compared the quality of care offered by public providers with the one offered by “formal” private providers (recognized by law) and “informal” private providers (providers that are not legally recognized, such as lay health workers and shop keepers). For the purposes of this study the researchers focused their comparison on the private and public provision of outpatient care in low and middle income countries.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
In their literature review, the researchers searched for relevant studies reported in English, French, or German and published between January 1970 and April 2009. Only studies that compared private and public outpatient medical services in the same country, at the same time, using the same methods, and which met particular quality criteria, were included in the analysis. The researchers also had strict criteria for including qualitative studies, and they retrieved the full text of articles, contacted study authors where appropriate, and verified with a second researcher most (80%) of the extracted study data. In order to evaluate and compare the studies, the researchers converted study values to a linear 100% scale, calculated differences between providers within studies, and summarized the median values of the differences across studies.
The researchers identified a total of 8,812 relevant titles and abstracts and found 80 studies that included direct quantitative comparisons of public and private formal providers. Ten studies included qualitative data. Most studies were conducted after 1990, and mainly in sub-Saharan Africa (n = 39) and Asia and the Pacific (n = 23). Most studies did not report socio-economic status of public and private service users, and only five studies presented data by different income groups. No study compared the same individual providers working in public and private care settings. Only two studies compared public providers and private informal providers, so the authors excluded these from subsequent analysis.
For the formal sector, since the results for “for-profit” and “not-for-profit” providers were similar, the researchers decided to combine the results. Overall, the researchers found that the median values indicated that many services, irrespective of whether public or private, scored low (less than 50%) on infrastructure, clinical competence, and practice. Generally, the private sector performed better in relation to drug supply, responsiveness, and effort, but there was no detectable difference between provider groups for patient satisfaction. Furthermore, a synthesis of qualitative data suggested that the private sector may be more client-centered.
What Do These Findings Mean?
Based on the findings of this review, there is a clear need to consider the quality of primary health services in both the public and private sector in order to improve health outcomes in low and middle income countries. These findings also indicate that, for some aspects of care, on average the private sector provided better quality services. The overall low quality of care in both the formal private and public sector found in this review is worrying, and calls for the governments of low and middle income countries to find and implement effective strategies to improve the quality in both sectors. This is particularly important given the increasing volume of conditions that require relatively sophisticated, long-term ambulatory medical care, such as non-communicable diseases.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000433.
This study is further discussed in a PLoS Medicine Perspective by Jishnu Das
WHO has more information on health service delivery in low- and middle-income countries
WHO has more information on noncommunicable diseases
The World Bank's World Development Report for 2004 addresses health care for poor people
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000433
PMCID: PMC3075233  PMID: 21532746
6.  Care Seeking for Neonatal Illness in Low- and Middle-Income Countries: A Systematic Review 
PLoS Medicine  2012;9(3):e1001183.
Hadley Herbert and colleagues systematically review newborn care-seeking behaviors by caregivers in low- and middle-income countries.
Background
Despite recent achievements to reduce child mortality, neonatal deaths continue to remain high, accounting for 41% of all deaths in children under five years of age worldwide, of which over 90% occur in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). Infections are a leading cause of death and limitations in care seeking for ill neonates contribute to high mortality rates. As estimates for care-seeking behaviors in LMICs have not been studied, this review describes care seeking for neonatal illnesses in LMICs, with particular attention to type of care sought.
Methods and Findings
We conducted a systematic literature review of studies that reported the proportion of caregivers that sought care for ill or suspected ill neonates in LMICs. The initial search yielded 784 studies, of which 22 studies described relevant data from community household surveys, facility-based surveys, and intervention trials. The majority of studies were from South Asia (n = 17/22), set in rural areas (n = 17/22), and published within the last 4 years (n = 18/22). Of the 9,098 neonates who were ill or suspected to be ill, 4,320 caregivers sought some type of care, including care from a health facility (n = 370) or provider (n = 1,813). Care seeking ranged between 10% and 100% among caregivers with a median of 59%. Care seeking from a health care provider yielded a similar range and median, while care seeking at a health care facility ranged between 1% and 100%, with a median of 20%. Care-seeking estimates were limited by the few studies conducted in urban settings and regions other than South Asia. There was a lack of consistency regarding illness, care-seeking, and care provider definitions.
Conclusions
There is a paucity of data regarding newborn care-seeking behaviors; in South Asia, care seeking is low for newborn illness, especially in terms of care sought from health care facilities and medically trained providers. There is a need for representative data to describe care-seeking patterns in different geographic regions and better understand mechanisms to enhance care seeking during this vulnerable time period.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Worldwide around 3.3 million babies die within their first month of life every year. While the global neonatal mortality rate has declined by 28% between 1990 and 2009 (from 33.2 deaths per 1,000 livebirths to 23.9), the proportion of under-five child deaths that are now in the neonatal period has increased in all regions of the world and currently stands at 41%. Of these deaths, over 90% occur in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), making the risk of death in the neonatal period in LMICs more than six times higher than in high-income countries. In LMIC settings most babies are born at home so inappropriate and delayed care seeking can contribute substantially to neonatal mortality. Infection causes over a quarter of all deaths in neonates, but in LMICs diagnosis is often based on nonspecific clinical signs, which may delay the provision of care.
Why Was This Study Done?
In order to improve neonatal survival in LMICs, health care facilities and providers must not only be available and accessible but a baby's caregiver, often a parent or other family member, must also recognize that the baby is ill and seek help. To address this problem with effective strategies, an understanding is needed of the patterns of care-seeking behavior by babies' caregivers in seeking help from health-care facilities or providers. In this study, the researchers explored the extent and nature of care-seeking behaviors by the caregivers of ill babies in LMIC settings.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
Using multiple databases, the researchers conducted a comprehensive review up until October 2011 of all relevant studies including those that had not been formally published. Using specific criteria, the researchers then identified 22 appropriate studies (out of a possible 784) and recorded the same information from each study, including the number of neonates with illness or suspected illness, the number of care providers who sought care, and where care was sought. They also assessed the quality of each included study (the majority of which were from rural areas in South Asia) on the basis of a validated method for reviewing intervention effectiveness. The researchers found that the definitions of neonatal illness and care-seeking behavior varied considerably between studies or were not defined at all. Because of these inherent study differences it was not possible to statistically combine the results from the identified studies using a technique called meta-analysis, instead the researchers reported literature estimates and described their findings narratively.
The researchers' analysis included 9,098 neonates who were identified in community-based studies as being ill or suspected of being ill and a total of 4,320 related care-seeking events: care seeking ranged between 10% and 100% among caregivers including seeking care from a health facility (370) or from a health provider (1,813). Furthermore, between 4% to 100% of caregivers sought care from a trained medical provider and 4% to 48% specified receiving care at a health care facility: caregivers typically sought help from primary health care, secondary health care, and pharmacies and some from an unqualified health provider. The researchers also identified seven community-based intervention studies that included interventions such as essential newborn care, birth preparedness, and illness recognition, where all showed an increase in care seeking following the intervention.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings highlight the lack of a standardized and consistent approach to neonate care-seeking behaviors described in the literature. However, despite the large variations of results, care seeking for newborn illnesses in LMICs appears to be low in general and remains a key challenge to improving neonatal mortality. Global research efforts to define, understand, and address care seeking, may help to reduce the global burden of neonatal mortality. However, to achieve sustainable improvements in neonatal survival, changes are needed to both increase the demand for newborn care and strengthen health care systems to improve access to, and quality of, care. This review also shows that there is a role for interventions within the community to encourage appropriate and timely care seeking. Finally, by addressing the inconsistencies and establishing standardized terms to identify barriers to care, future studies may be able to better generalize the factors and delays that influence neonatal care seeking.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001183.
A recent PLoS Medicine study has the latest figures on neonatal mortality worldwide
UNICEF provides information about progress toward United Nations Millennium Development Goal 4
UNICEF also has information about neonatal mortality
The United Nations Population Fund has information on home births
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001183
PMCID: PMC3295826  PMID: 22412355
7.  Human Resource and Funding Constraints for Essential Surgery in District Hospitals in Africa: A Retrospective Cross-Sectional Survey 
PLoS Medicine  2010;7(3):e1000242.
In the second of two papers investigating surgical provision in eight district hospitals in Saharan African countries, Margaret Kruk and colleagues describe the range of providers of surgical care and anesthesia and estimate the related costs.
Background
There is a growing recognition that the provision of surgical services in low-income countries is inadequate to the need. While constrained health budgets and health worker shortages have been blamed for the low rates of surgery, there has been little empirical data on the providers of surgery and cost of surgical services in Africa. This study described the range of providers of surgical care and anesthesia and estimated the resources dedicated to surgery at district hospitals in three African countries.
Methods and Findings
We conducted a retrospective cross-sectional survey of data from eight district hospitals in Mozambique, Tanzania, and Uganda. There were no specialist surgeons or anesthetists in any of the hospitals. Most of the health workers were nurses (77.5%), followed by mid-level providers (MLPs) not trained to provide surgical care (7.8%), and MLPs trained to perform surgical procedures (3.8%). There were one to six medical doctors per hospital (4.2% of clinical staff). Most major surgical procedures were performed by doctors (54.6%), however over one-third (35.9%) were done by MLPs. Anesthesia was mainly provided by nurses (39.4%). Most of the hospital expenditure was related to staffing. Of the total operating costs, only 7% to 14% was allocated to surgical care, the majority of which was for obstetric surgery. These costs represent a per capita expenditure on surgery ranging from US$0.05 to US$0.14 between the eight hospitals.
Conclusion
African countries have adopted different policies to ensure the provision of surgical care in their respective district hospitals. Overall, the surgical output per capita was very low, reflecting low staffing ratios and limited expenditures for surgery. We found that most surgical and anesthesia services in the three countries in the study were provided by generalist doctors, MLPs, and nurses. Although more information is needed to estimate unmet need for surgery, increasing the funds allocated to surgery, and, in the absence of trained doctors and surgeons, formalizing the training of MLPs appears to be a pragmatic and cost-effective way to make basic surgical services available in underserved areas.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Infectious diseases remain the major killers in developing countries, but traumatic injuries, complications of childbirth, and other conditions that need surgery are important contributors to the overall burden of disease in these countries. Unfortunately, the provision of surgical services in low- and middle-income countries is often insufficient. There are many fewer operations per a head of population in developing countries than in developed countries, essential operations such as cesarean sections for complicated deliveries are not always available, and elective operations such as male and female sterilization can be difficult to obtain. Lack of funding for surgical procedures and shortages of trained health workers have often been blamed for the low rates of surgery in developing countries. For example, anesthesiologists (doctors who are trained to give anesthetics and other pain-relieving agents) and trained anesthetists (usually nurses and technicians) are rare in many African countries, as are surgeons and obstetricians (doctors who look after women during pregnancy and childbirth). To make matters worse, these specialists often work in tertiary referral hospitals in large cities. In district hospitals, which provide most of the primary health care needs of rural populations, basic surgical care is usually provided by “mid-level health care providers” (MLPs)—individuals with a level of training between that of nurses and physicians.
Why Was This Study Done?
Various organizations are currently working to improve emergency and essential surgical care in developing countries. For example, the Bellagio Essential Surgery Group (BESG) seeks to define, quantify, and address the problem of unmet surgical needs in sub-Saharan Africa. Importantly, however, before any programs can be introduced to improve access to surgical services in developing countries, better baseline data on existing surgical services needs to be collected—most of the available information on these services is anecdotal. In this study, the researchers (most of whom are members of the BESG) investigate the provision of surgical procedures and anesthesia in district hospitals in three sub-Saharan African countries and estimate the costs of surgery performed in the same hospitals.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers collected recent data on the number of doctors, MLPs, and nurses in two district hospitals in Tanzania and in Mozambique, and from four district hospitals in Uganda and information on each hospital's expenditure. Most of the health workers in these hospitals (which care for 3 million people between them) were nurses (77.5%), followed by MLPs not trained to provide surgical care (7.8%), and MLPs trained to provide surgical care (3.8%). The hospitals had between one and six medical doctors each (28 across all the hospitals), but there were no trained surgeons or anesthesiologists posted at any of the hospitals. About half of the major surgical procedures undertaken at these hospitals were performed by doctors but more than a third were done by MLPs although the exact pattern of personnel involved in surgery varied among the three countries. Anesthesia was mostly provided by nurses and doctors; again the pattern of anesthesia provision varied among countries and hospitals. Only 7%–14% of overall hospital expenditure was allocated to surgical care and most of this allocation was used for obstetric services. Finally, the researchers estimate that, on the basis of district populations, the district hospitals spent between US$0.05 and US$0.14 per head on surgical services.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings indicate that, in the district hospitals investigated in this study, physicians, MLPs, and nurses provide most of the surgical care. Furthermore, although all the hospitals in the study provide some surgical care, it accounts for a small part of the hospitals' overall operating costs. These findings may not be generalizable to other district hospitals in sub-Saharan Africa and provide no information about the unmet needs for surgical care. Nevertheless, these findings and those of a separate paper that investigates the range and volume of surgical procedures undertaken in the same district hospitals provide a valuable baseline for planning the expansion of health care services in Africa. They also suggest that increasing the funds allocated to surgery and formalizing the training of MLPs might be a cost-effective way of increasing access to surgical care in sub-Saharan Africa and other developing regions.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000242.
The range and volume of surgery in the same hospitals is investigated in a PLoS Medicine Research Article by Moses Galukande et al.
Information on the Bellagio Essential Surgery Group is available
WHO's Global initiative for Emergency and Essential Surgical Care plans to take essential emergency, basic surgery and anesthesia skills to health care staff in low- and middle-income countries around the world; WHO also has a page describing the importance of emergency and essential surgery in primary health care
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000242
PMCID: PMC2834706  PMID: 20231869
8.  Increasing Coverage and Decreasing Inequity in Insecticide-Treated Bed Net Use among Rural Kenyan Children 
PLoS Medicine  2007;4(8):e255.
Background
Inexpensive and efficacious interventions that avert childhood deaths in sub-Saharan Africa have failed to reach effective coverage, especially among the poorest rural sectors. One particular example is insecticide-treated bed nets (ITNs). In this study, we present repeat observations of ITN coverage among rural Kenyan homesteads exposed at different times to a range of delivery models, and assess changes in coverage across socioeconomic groups.
Methods and Findings
We undertook a study of annual changes in ITN coverage among a cohort of 3,700 children aged 0–4 y in four districts of Kenya (Bondo, Greater Kisii, Kwale, and Makueni) annually between 2004 and 2006. Cross-sectional surveys of ITN coverage were undertaken coincidentally with the incremental availability of commercial sector nets (2004), the introduction of heavily subsidized nets through clinics (2005), and the introduction of free mass distributed ITNs (2006). The changing prevalence of ITN coverage was examined with special reference to the degree of equity in each delivery approach. ITN coverage was only 7.1% in 2004 when the predominant source of nets was the commercial retail sector. By the end of 2005, following the expansion of heavily subsidized clinic distribution system, ITN coverage rose to 23.5%. In 2006 a large-scale mass distribution of ITNs was mounted providing nets free of charge to children, resulting in a dramatic increase in ITN coverage to 67.3%. With each subsequent survey socioeconomic inequity in net coverage sequentially decreased: 2004 (most poor [2.9%] versus least poor [15.6%]; concentration index 0.281); 2005 (most poor [17.5%] versus least poor [37.9%]; concentration index 0.131), and 2006 with near-perfect equality (most poor [66.3%] versus least poor [66.6%]; concentration index 0.000). The free mass distribution method achieved highest coverage among the poorest children, the highly subsidised clinic nets programme was marginally in favour of the least poor, and the commercial social marketing favoured the least poor.
Conclusions
Rapid scaling up of ITN coverage among Africa's poorest rural children can be achieved through mass distribution campaigns. These efforts must form an important adjunct to regular, routine access to ITNs through clinics, and each complimentary approach should aim to make this intervention free to clients to ensure equitable access among those least able to afford even the cost of a heavily subsidized net.
Noor and colleagues found low levels of use of insecticide-treated mosquito nets when nets were mainly available through the commercial sector. Levels increased when subsidized nets were introduced and rose further when they were made available free.
Editors' Summary
Background.
Malaria is one of the world's most important killer diseases. There are over a million deaths from malaria every year, most of those who die are children in Africa. Frequent attacks of the disease have severe consequences for the health of many millions more. The parasite that causes malaria is spread by bites from certain species of mosquito. They mostly bite during the hours of darkness, so sleeping under a mosquito net provides some protection. In some countries where malaria is a problem, bed nets are already used by many people. A very much higher level of protection is obtained, however, by sleeping under a mosquito net that has been impregnated with insecticide. The insecticides used are of extremely low toxicity for humans. As insecticide-treated nets (ITNs) are a relatively new idea, people do need to be persuaded to buy and use them. ITNs must also be re-impregnated regularly, although long-lasting ones that remain effective for 3–5 y (or 21 washes) are now widely distributed. The nets are inexpensive by Western standards but the people who are most at risk of malaria have very little income. Governments and health agencies are keen to increase the use of nets, particularly for children and pregnant women. The main approach used has been that of “social marketing.” In other words, advertising campaigns promote the use of nets, and their local manufacture is encouraged. The nets are then sold on the open market, sometimes with government subsidies. This approach has been very controversial. Many people have argued that ways must be found to make nets available free to all who need them, but others believe that this is not necessary and that high rates of ITN use can be brought about by social marketing alone.
Why Was This Study Done?
It has been known for more than ten years that ITNs are very effective in reducing cases of malaria, but there is still a long way to go before every child at risk sleeps under an ITN. In Kenya, a country where malaria is very common, a program to increase net use began in 2002, using the social marketing approach. In 2004 most of the nets available in Kenya were those on sale commercially. In October 2004 health clinics started to distribute more heavily subsidized ITNs for children and pregnant women and, in 2006, a mass distribution program began of free nets for children. The researchers, based at the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI), wanted to find whether the number of children sleeping under ITNs changed as a result of these changes in policy. They also wanted to see how the rate of net use varied between families of different socioeconomic levels, as the poorest children are known to be most likely to die from malaria.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
This is a large study involving 3,700 children in four districts of Kenya. The researchers conducted surveys and then calculated the rates of net use in 2004, 2005, and 2006. In the first survey, when nets were available to most people only through the commercial sector, only 7% of children were sleeping under ITNs, with a very big difference between the poorest families (3%) and the least poor (16%). By the end of 2005, the year in which subsidized nets became increasingly available in clinics, the overall rate of use rose to 24%. By the end of 2006, following the free distribution campaign, it was 66%. The 2006 figure was almost exactly the same for the poorest and least poor families.
What Do These Findings Mean?
The rate of net use in the districts in the survey is much higher than expected, even though one-third of children were still not protected by ITNs. The sharp increases—particularly among the poorest children—after heavily subsidized nets were introduced and then after the free mass distribution suggests that this is a very good use of the limited amount of funds available for health care in Kenya and other countries where malaria is common. If fewer Kenyan children have malaria there will be cost savings to the health services. While some might claim that it is obvious that nets will be more widely used if they are free, there has been heated debate as to whether this is really true. Evidence has been needed and this research now provides strong support for free distribution. The study has also identified other factors which will be important in the continuing efforts to increase ITN use.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.0040255.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provide information on malaria and on insecticide-treated nets (in English and Spanish)
The MedlinePlus encyclopedia contains a page on malaria (in English and Spanish). MedlinePlus brings together authoritative information from the US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, and other government agencies and health-related organizations
Information is available from the World Health Organization on malaria (in English, Spanish, French, Russian, Arabic, and Chinese) and from the Roll Back Malaria Partnership on the use of insecticide-treated nets
For information about the Medical Research Institute see the organization's Web site
The BBC Web site has a “country profile” about Kenya
Malaria data and related publications can be found on the Malaria Atlas Project Web site, which is funded by the Wellcome Trust, UK and is a joint project between the Malaria Public Health & Epidemiology Group, Centre for Geographic Medicine, Kenya and the Spatial Ecology & Epidemiology Group, University of Oxford, UK
The Kenya Ministry of Health, Division of Malaria Control Web site has useful information on malaria epidemiology and policies for Kenya
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0040255
PMCID: PMC1949846  PMID: 17713981
9.  Clinical Benefits, Costs, and Cost-Effectiveness of Neonatal Intensive Care in Mexico 
PLoS Medicine  2010;7(12):e1000379.
Joshua Salomon and colleagues performed a cost-effectiveness analysis using health and economic outcomes following preterm birth in Mexico and showed that neonatal intensive care provided high value for the money in this setting.
Background
Neonatal intensive care improves survival, but is associated with high costs and disability amongst survivors. Recent health reform in Mexico launched a new subsidized insurance program, necessitating informed choices on the different interventions that might be covered by the program, including neonatal intensive care. The purpose of this study was to estimate the clinical outcomes, costs, and cost-effectiveness of neonatal intensive care in Mexico.
Methods and Findings
A cost-effectiveness analysis was conducted using a decision analytic model of health and economic outcomes following preterm birth. Model parameters governing health outcomes were estimated from Mexican vital registration and hospital discharge databases, supplemented with meta-analyses and systematic reviews from the published literature. Costs were estimated on the basis of data provided by the Ministry of Health in Mexico and World Health Organization price lists, supplemented with published studies from other countries as needed. The model estimated changes in clinical outcomes, life expectancy, disability-free life expectancy, lifetime costs, disability-adjusted life years (DALYs), and incremental cost-effectiveness ratios (ICERs) for neonatal intensive care compared to no intensive care. Uncertainty around the results was characterized using one-way sensitivity analyses and a multivariate probabilistic sensitivity analysis. In the base-case analysis, neonatal intensive care for infants born at 24–26, 27–29, and 30–33 weeks gestational age prolonged life expectancy by 28, 43, and 34 years and averted 9, 15, and 12 DALYs, at incremental costs per infant of US$11,400, US$9,500, and US$3,000, respectively, compared to an alternative of no intensive care. The ICERs of neonatal intensive care at 24–26, 27–29, and 30–33 weeks were US$1,200, US$650, and US$240, per DALY averted, respectively. The findings were robust to variation in parameter values over wide ranges in sensitivity analyses.
Conclusions
Incremental cost-effectiveness ratios for neonatal intensive care imply very high value for money on the basis of conventional benchmarks for cost-effectiveness analysis.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Most pregnancies last about 40 weeks but increasing numbers of babies are being born preterm, before they reach 37 weeks of gestation (the period during which a baby develops in its mother). In developed countries and some middle-income countries such as Mexico, improvements in the care of newborn babies (neonatal intensive care) mean that more preterm babies survive now than in the past. Nevertheless, preterm birth is still a major cause of infant death worldwide that challenges attainment of Target 5 of Millennium Development Goal 4—the reduction of the global under-five mortality rate by two-thirds of the 1990 rate by 2015 (the Millennium Development Goals, which were agreed by world leaders in 2000, aim to reduce world poverty). Furthermore, many preterm babies who survive have long-term health problems and disabilities such as cerebral palsy, deafness, or learning difficulties. The severity of these disabilities and their long-term costs to families and to society depend on the baby's degree of prematurity.
Why Was This Study Done?
Mexico recently reformed its health system in an effort to improve access to care, particularly for the poorest sections of its population, and to improve the quality of its health care. The central component of this health care reform is the System of Social Protection of Health (SSPH). The SSPH contains a family health insurance program—Seguro Popular—that aims to provide the 50 million uninsured people living in Mexico with free access to an explicit set of health care interventions. As with any insurance program, decisions have to be made about which interventions Seguro Poplar should cover. Should neonatal intensive care be covered, for example? Do the benefits of this intervention (increased survival of babies) outweigh the costs of neonatal care and of long-term care for survivors with disabilities? In other words, is neonatal intensive care cost-effective? In this study, the researchers investigate this question by estimating the clinical benefits, costs, and cost-effectiveness of neonatal intensive care in Mexico.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers built a decision analytic model, a mathematical model that combines evidence on the outcomes and costs of alternative treatments to help inform decisions about health care policy. They gathered data about the health outcomes of preterm births in Mexico from registers of births and deaths and from hospital discharge databases, and estimated the costs of neonatal intensive care and long-term care for disabled survivors using data from the Mexican Ministry of Health and the World Health Organization. They then applied their model, which estimates changes in parameters such as life expectancy, lifetime costs, disability-adjusted life years (DALYs; one DALY represents the loss of a year of healthy life), and incremental cost-effectiveness ratios (ICERs; the additional cost expended for each DALY averted) for neonatal intensive care compared to no intensive care, to a group of 2 million infants. Neonatal intensive care for infants born at 24–26, 27–29, and 30–33 weeks gestation prolonged life expectancy by 28, 43, and 34 years and averted 9, 15, and 12 DALYs at incremental costs of US$11,000, US$10,000, and US$3000, respectively, compared to no intensive care. The ICERs of neonatal intensive care for babies born at these times were US$1200, US$700, and US$300 per DALY averted, respectively.
What Do These Findings Mean?
Interventions with ICERs of less than a country's per capita gross domestic product (GDP) are highly cost-effective; those with ICERs of 1–3 times the per capita GDP are potentially cost-effective. Mexico's per capita GDP in 2005 was approximately US$8,200. Thus, neonatal intensive care could provide exceptional value for money in Mexico (and maybe in other middle-income countries), even for very premature babies. The accuracy of these findings inevitably depends on the assumptions used to build the decision analytic model and on the accuracy of the data fed into it, but the findings were little changed by a wide range of alterations that the researchers made to the model. Importantly, however, this cost-effectiveness analysis focuses on health and economic consequences of different intervention choices, and does not capture all aspects of well-being. Decisions regarding neonatal intensive care will need to be based on a full consideration of all relevant factors, including ethical issues, and cost-effectiveness analyses should continue to be updated as new data emerge on health outcomes and costs associated with neonatal intensive care.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000379.
The March of Dimes, a nonprofit organization for pregnancy and baby health, provides information on preterm birth (in English and Spanish)
The Nemours Foundation, another nonprofit organization for child health, also provides information on premature babies (in English and Spanish)
MedlinePlus provides links to other information on premature babies (in English and Spanish)
The United Nations Childrens Fund (UNICEF) works for children's rights, survival, development and protection around the world; it provides information on Millennium Development Goal 4 and its Childinfo website provides detailed statistics about child survival and health (some information in several languages)
A PLoS Medicine Policy Forum by Núria Homedes and Antonio Ugalde discusses health care reforms in Mexico
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000379
PMCID: PMC3001895  PMID: 21179496
10.  The Influence of Health Systems on Hypertension Awareness, Treatment, and Control: A Systematic Literature Review 
PLoS Medicine  2013;10(7):e1001490.
Will Maimaris and colleagues systematically review the evidence that national or regional health systems, including place of care and medication co-pays, influence hypertension awareness, treatment, and control.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Background
Hypertension (HT) affects an estimated one billion people worldwide, nearly three-quarters of whom live in low- or middle-income countries (LMICs). In both developed and developing countries, only a minority of individuals with HT are adequately treated. The reasons are many but, as with other chronic diseases, they include weaknesses in health systems. We conducted a systematic review of the influence of national or regional health systems on HT awareness, treatment, and control.
Methods and Findings
Eligible studies were those that analyzed the impact of health systems arrangements at the regional or national level on HT awareness, treatment, control, or antihypertensive medication adherence. The following databases were searched on 13th May 2013: Medline, Embase, Global Health, LILACS, Africa-Wide Information, IMSEAR, IMEMR, and WPRIM. There were no date or language restrictions. Two authors independently assessed papers for inclusion, extracted data, and assessed risk of bias. A narrative synthesis of the findings was conducted. Meta-analysis was not conducted due to substantial methodological heterogeneity in included studies. 53 studies were included, 11 of which were carried out in LMICs. Most studies evaluated health system financing and only four evaluated the effect of either human, physical, social, or intellectual resources on HT outcomes. Reduced medication co-payments were associated with improved HT control and treatment adherence, mainly evaluated in US settings. On balance, health insurance coverage was associated with improved outcomes of HT care in US settings. Having a routine place of care or physician was associated with improved HT care.
Conclusions
This review supports the minimization of medication co-payments in health insurance plans, and although studies were largely conducted in the US, the principle is likely to apply more generally. Studies that identify and analyze complexities and links between health systems arrangements and their effects on HT management are required, particularly in LMICs.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
In 2008, one billion people, three-quarters of whom were living in low- and middle-income countries, had high blood pressure (hypertension). Worldwide, hypertension, which rarely has any symptoms, leads to about 7.5 million deaths annually from heart attacks, stroke, other cardiovascular diseases, and kidney disease. Hypertension, selected by the World Health Organization as the theme for World Health Day 2013, is diagnosed by measuring blood pressure, the force that blood circulating in the body exerts on the inside of large blood vessels. Blood pressure is highest when the heart is contracts to pump blood out (systolic blood pressure) and lowest when the heart relaxes and refills (diastolic blood pressure). Normal adult blood pressure is defined as a systolic blood pressure of less than 120 millimeters of mercury (mmHg) and a diastolic blood pressure of less than 80 mmHg (a blood pressure of less than 120/80 mmHg). A blood pressure reading of more than 140/90 mmHg indicates hypertension. Many factors affect blood pressure, but overweight people and individuals who eat fatty or salty foods are at high risk of developing hypertension.
Why Was This Study Done?
Most individuals can achieve good hypertension control, which reduces death and disability from cardiovascular and kidney disease, by making lifestyle changes (mild hypertension) and/or by taking antihypertensive drugs. Yet, in both developed and developing countries, many people with hypertension are not aware of their condition and are not adequately treated. As with other chronic diseases, weaknesses in health care systems probably contribute to the inadequate treatment of hypertension. A health care system comprises all the organizations, institutions, and resources whose primary purpose is to improve health. Weaknesses in health care systems can exist at the national, regional, district, community, and household level. In this systematic review (a study that uses predefined criteria to identify all the research on a given topic), the researchers investigate how national and regional health care system arrangements influence hypertension awareness, treatment, and control. Actions that might influence hypertension care at this level of health care systems include providing treatment for hypertension at no or reduced cost, the introduction of financial incentives to healthcare practitioners for the diagnosis and treatment of hypertension, and enhanced insurance coverage in countries such as the US where people pay for health care through insurance policies.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers identified 53 studies that analyzed whether regional or national health care systems arrangements were associated with patient awareness of hypertension, treatment of hypertension, adherence to antihypertensive medication treatment, and control of hypertension. The researchers used an established conceptual framework for health care systems and an approach called narrative synthesis to analyze the results of these studies, most of which were conducted in the US (36 studies) and other high-income countries (eight studies). Nearly all the studies evaluated the effects of health system financing on hypertension outcomes, although several looked at the effects of delivery and governance of health systems on these outcomes. The researchers' analysis revealed an association between reduced medication co-payments (drug costs that are not covered by health insurance and that are paid by patients in countries without universal free healthcare) and improved hypertension control and treatment adherence, mainly in US settings. In addition, in US settings, health insurance coverage was associated with improved hypertension outcomes, as was having a routine physician or place of care.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that minimizing co-payments for health care and expansion of health insurance coverage in countries without universal free health care may improve the awareness, treatment, and control of hypertension. Although these findings are based mainly on US studies, they are likely to apply more generally but, importantly, these findings indicate that additional, high-quality studies are needed to unravel the impact of health systems arrangements on the management of hypertension. In particular, they reveal few studies in low- and middle-income countries where most of the global burden of hypertension lies and where weaknesses in health systems often result in deficiencies in the care of chronic diseases. Moreover, they highlight a need for studies that evaluate how aspects of health care systems other than financing (for example, delivery and governance mechanisms) and interactions between health care system arrangements affect hypertension outcomes. Without the results of such studies, governments and national and international organizations will not know the best ways to deal effectively with the global public-health crisis posed by hypertension.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001490.
The US National Heart Lung and Blood Institute has patient information about high blood pressure (in English and Spanish)
The American Heart Association provides information on high blood pressure (in several languages) and personal stories about dealing with high blood pressure
The UK National Health Service (NHS) Choices website provides detailed information for patients about hypertension and a personal story about hypertension
The World Health Organization provides information on controlling blood pressure and on health systems (in several languages); its "A Global Brief on Hypertension" was published on World Health Day 2013
MedlinePlus provides links to further information about high blood pressure (in English and Spanish)
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001490
PMCID: PMC3728036  PMID: 23935461
11.  A Case-Control Study to Assess the Relationship between Poverty and Visual Impairment from Cataract in Kenya, the Philippines, and Bangladesh 
PLoS Medicine  2008;5(12):e244.
Background
The link between poverty and health is central to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Poverty can be both a cause and consequence of poor health, but there are few epidemiological studies exploring this complex relationship. The aim of this study was to examine the association between visual impairment from cataract and poverty in adults in Kenya, Bangladesh, and the Philippines.
Methods and Findings
A population-based case–control study was conducted in three countries during 2005–2006. Cases were persons aged 50 y or older and visually impaired due to cataract (visual acuity < 6/24 in the better eye). Controls were persons age- and sex-matched to the case participants with normal vision selected from the same cluster. Household expenditure was assessed through the collection of detailed consumption data, and asset ownership and self-rated wealth were also measured. In total, 596 cases and 535 controls were included in these analyses (Kenya 142 cases, 75 controls; Bangladesh 216 cases, 279 controls; Philippines 238 cases, 180 controls). Case participants were more likely to be in the lowest quartile of per capita expenditure (PCE) compared to controls in Kenya (odds ratio = 2.3, 95% confidence interval 0.9–5.5), Bangladesh (1.9, 1.1–3.2), and the Philippines (3.1, 1.7–5.7), and there was significant dose–response relationship across quartiles of PCE. These associations persisted after adjustment for self-rated health and social support indicators. A similar pattern was observed for the relationship between cataract visual impairment with asset ownership and self-rated wealth. There was no consistent pattern of association between PCE and level of visual impairment due to cataract, sex, or age among the three countries.
Conclusions
Our data show that people with visual impairment due to cataract were poorer than those with normal sight in all three low-income countries studied. The MDGs are committed to the eradication of extreme poverty and provision of health care to poor people, and this study highlights the need for increased provision of cataract surgery to poor people, as they are particularly vulnerable to visual impairment from cataract.
Hannah Kuper and colleagues report a population-based case-control study conducted in three countries that found an association between poverty and visual impairment from cataract.
Editors' Summary
Background.
Globally, about 45 million people are blind. As with many other conditions, avoidable blindness (preventable or curable blindness) is a particular problem for people in developing countries—90% of blind people live in poor regions of the world. Although various infections and disorders can cause blindness, cataract is the most common cause. In cataract, which is responsible for half of all cases of blindness in the world, the lens of the eye gradually becomes cloudy. Because the lens focuses light to produce clear, sharp images, as cataract develops, vision becomes increasingly foggy or fuzzy, colors become less intense, and the ability to see shapes against a background declines. Eventually, vision may be lost completely. Cataract can be treated with an inexpensive, simple operation in which the cloudy lens is surgically removed and an artificial lens is inserted into the eye to restore vision. In developed countries, this operation is common and easily accessible but many poor countries lack the resources to provide the operation to everyone who needs it. In addition, blind people often cannot afford to travel to the hospitals where the operation, which also may come with a fee, is done.
Why Was This Study Done?
Because blindness may reduce earning potential, many experts believe that poverty and blindness (and, more generally, poor health) are inextricably linked. People become ill more often in poor countries than in wealthy countries because they have insufficient food, live in substandard housing, and have limited access to health care, education, water, and sanitation. Once they are ill, their ability to earn money may be reduced, which increases their personal poverty and slows the economic development of the whole country. Because of this potential link between health and poverty, improvements in health are at the heart of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, a set of eight goals established in 2000 with the primary aim of reducing world poverty. However, few studies have actually investigated the complex relationship between poverty and health. Here, the researchers investigate the association between visual impairment from cataract and poverty among adults living in three low-income countries.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers identified nearly 600 people aged 50 y or more with severe cataract-induced visual impairment (“cases”) primarily through a survey of the population in Kenya, Bangladesh, and the Philippines. They matched each case to a normally sighted (“control”) person of similar age and sex living nearby. They then assessed a proxy for the income level, measured as “per capita expenditure” (PCE), of all the study participants (people with cataracts and controls) by collecting information about what their households consumed. The participants' housing conditions and other assets and their self-rated wealth were also measured. In all three countries, cases were more likely to be in the lowest quarter (quartile) of the range of PCEs for that country than controls. In the Philippines, for example, people with cataract-affected vision were three times more likely than normally sighted controls to have a PCE in the lowest quartile than in the highest quartile. The risk of cataract-related visual impairment increased as PCE decreased in all three countries. Similarly, severe cataract-induced visual impairment was more common in those who owned fewer assets and those with lower self-rated wealth. However, there was no consistent association between PCE and the level of cataract-induced visual impairment.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings show that there is an association between visual impairment caused by cataract and poverty in Kenya, Bangladesh, and the Philippines. However, because the financial circumstances of the people in this study were assessed after cataracts had impaired their sight, this study does not prove that poverty is a cause of visual impairment. A causal connection between poverty and cataract can only be shown by determining the PCEs of normally sighted people and following them for several years to see who develops cataract. Nevertheless, by confirming an association between poverty and blindness, these findings highlight the need for increased provision of cataract surgery to poor people, particularly since cataract surgery has the potential to improve the quality of life for many people in developing countries at a relatively low cost.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.0050244.
This study is further discussed in a PLoS Medicine Perspective by Susan Lewallen
The MedlinePlus encyclopedia contains a page on cataract, and MedlinePlus also provides a list of links to further information about cataract (in English and Spanish)
VISION 2020, a global initiative for the elimination of avoidable blindness launched by the World Health Organization and the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness, provides information in several languages about many causes of blindness, including cataract. It also has an article available for download on blindness, poverty, and development
Information is available from the World Health Organization on health and the Millennium Development Goals (in English, French, and Spanish)
The International Centre for Eye Health carries out research and education activities to improve eye health and eliminate avoidable blindness with a focus on populations with low incomes
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0050244
PMCID: PMC2602716  PMID: 19090614
12.  Comparative Performance of Private and Public Healthcare Systems in Low- and Middle-Income Countries: A Systematic Review 
PLoS Medicine  2012;9(6):e1001244.
A systematic review conducted by Sanjay Basu and colleagues reevaluates the evidence relating to comparative performance of public versus private sector healthcare delivery in low- and middle-income countries.
Introduction
Private sector healthcare delivery in low- and middle-income countries is sometimes argued to be more efficient, accountable, and sustainable than public sector delivery. Conversely, the public sector is often regarded as providing more equitable and evidence-based care. We performed a systematic review of research studies investigating the performance of private and public sector delivery in low- and middle-income countries.
Methods and Findings
Peer-reviewed studies including case studies, meta-analyses, reviews, and case-control analyses, as well as reports published by non-governmental organizations and international agencies, were systematically collected through large database searches, filtered through methodological inclusion criteria, and organized into six World Health Organization health system themes: accessibility and responsiveness; quality; outcomes; accountability, transparency, and regulation; fairness and equity; and efficiency. Of 1,178 potentially relevant unique citations, data were obtained from 102 articles describing studies conducted in low- and middle-income countries. Comparative cohort and cross-sectional studies suggested that providers in the private sector more frequently violated medical standards of practice and had poorer patient outcomes, but had greater reported timeliness and hospitality to patients. Reported efficiency tended to be lower in the private than in the public sector, resulting in part from perverse incentives for unnecessary testing and treatment. Public sector services experienced more limited availability of equipment, medications, and trained healthcare workers. When the definition of “private sector” included unlicensed and uncertified providers such as drug shop owners, most patients appeared to access care in the private sector; however, when unlicensed healthcare providers were excluded from the analysis, the majority of people accessed public sector care. “Competitive dynamics” for funding appeared between the two sectors, such that public funds and personnel were redirected to private sector development, followed by reductions in public sector service budgets and staff.
Conclusions
Studies evaluated in this systematic review do not support the claim that the private sector is usually more efficient, accountable, or medically effective than the public sector; however, the public sector appears frequently to lack timeliness and hospitality towards patients.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Health care can be provided through public and private providers. Public health care is usually provided by the government through national healthcare systems. Private health care can be provided through “for profit” hospitals and self-employed practitioners, and “not for profit” non-government providers, including faith-based organizations.
There is considerable ideological debate around whether low- and middle-income countries should strengthen public versus private healthcare services, but in reality, most low- and middle-income countries use both types of healthcare provision. Recently, as the global economic recession has put major constraints on government budgets—the major funding source for healthcare expenditures in most countries—disputes between the proponents of private and public systems have escalated, further fuelled by the recommendation of International Monetary Fund (an international finance institution) that countries increase the scope of private sector provision in health care as part of loan conditions to reduce government debt. However, critics of the private health sector believe that public healthcare provision is of most benefit to poor people and is the only way to achieve universal and equitable access to health care.
Why Was This Study Done?
Both sides of the public versus private healthcare debate draw on selected case reports to defend their viewpoints, but there is a widely held view that the private health system is more efficient than the public health system. Therefore, in order to inform policy, there is an urgent need for robust evidence to evaluate the quality and effectiveness of the health care provided through both systems. In this study, the authors reviewed all of the evidence in a systematic way to evaluate available data on public and private sector performance.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers used eight databases and a comprehensive key word search to identify and review appropriate published data and studies of private and public sector performance in low- and middle-income countries. They assessed selected studies against the World Health Organization's six essential themes of health systems—accessibility and responsiveness; quality; outcomes; accountability, transparency, and regulation; fairness and equity; and efficiency—and conducted a narrative review of each theme.
Out of the 102 relevant studies included in their comparative analysis, 59 studies were research studies and 13 involved meta-analysis, with the rest involving case reports or reviews. The researchers found that study findings varied considerably across countries studied (one-third of studies were conducted in Africa and a third in Southeast Asia) and by the methods used.
Financial barriers to care (such as user fees) were reported for both public and private systems. Although studies report that patients in the private sector experience better timeliness and hospitality, studies suggest that providers in the private sector more frequently violate accepted medical standards and have lower reported efficiency.
What Do These Findings Mean?
This systematic review did not support previous views that private sector delivery of health care in low- and middle-income settings is more efficient, accountable, or effective than public sector delivery. Each system has its strengths and weaknesses, but importantly, in both sectors, there were financial barriers to care, and each had poor accountability and transparency. This systematic review highlights a limited and poor-quality evidence base regarding the comparative performance of the two systems.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001244.
A previous PLoS Medicine study examined the outpatient care provided by the public and private sector in low-income countries
The WHO website provides more information on healthcare systems
The World Bank website provides information on health system financing
Oxfam provides an argument against increased private health care in poor countries
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001244
PMCID: PMC3378609  PMID: 22723748
13.  Trends in Resource Utilization by Children with Neurological Impairment in the United States Inpatient Health Care System: A Repeat Cross-Sectional Study 
PLoS Medicine  2012;9(1):e1001158.
Jay Berry and colleagues report findings from an analysis of hospitalization data in the US, examining the proportion of inpatient resources attributable to care for children with neurological impairment.
Background
Care advances in the United States (US) have led to improved survival of children with neurological impairment (NI). Children with NI may account for an increasing proportion of hospital resources. However, this assumption has not been tested at a national level.
Methods and Findings
We conducted a study of 25,747,016 US hospitalizations of children recorded in the Kids' Inpatient Database (years 1997, 2000, 2003, and 2006). Children with NI were identified with International Classification of Diseases, 9th Revision, Clinical Modification diagnoses resulting in functional and/or intellectual impairment. We assessed trends in inpatient resource utilization for children with NI with a Mantel-Haenszel chi-square test using all 4 y of data combined. Across the 4 y combined, children with NI accounted for 5.2% (1,338,590) of all hospitalizations. Epilepsy (52.2% [n = 538,978]) and cerebral palsy (15.9% [n = 164,665]) were the most prevalent NI diagnoses. The proportion of hospitalizations attributable to children with NI did not change significantly (p = 0.32) over time. In 2006, children with NI accounted for 5.3% (n = 345,621) of all hospitalizations, 13.9% (n = 3.4 million) of bed days, and 21.6% (US$17.7 billion) of all hospital charges within all hospitals. Over time, the proportion of hospitalizations attributable to children with NI decreased within non-children's hospitals (3.0% [n = 146,324] in 1997 to 2.5% [n = 113,097] in 2006, p<.001) and increased within children's hospitals (11.7% [n = 179,324] in 1997 to 13.5% [n = 209,708] in 2006, p<0.001). In 2006, children with NI accounted for 24.7% (2.1 million) of bed days and 29.0% (US$12.0 billion) of hospital charges within children's hospitals.
Conclusions
Children with NI account for a substantial proportion of inpatient resources utilized in the US. Their impact is growing within children's hospitals. We must ensure that the current health care system is staffed, educated, and equipped to serve this growing segment of vulnerable children.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Disorders of the central and peripheral nervous system, often referred to as neurological impairments, are common in infants and children and can cause functional or intellectual disability. There are many causes of neurological impairments, including birth trauma, congenital abnormalities, structural defects, infections, tumors, blood flow disruption, genetic and metabolic conditions, and toxins. Symptoms can be progressive or static and vary widely depending on the condition. For example, developmental delay, changes in activity—often due to muscle wasting—and seizures may be common symptoms of neurological conditions in children. In many countries, extremely premature babies, and children with conditions such as spina bifida and muscular dystrophy, now receive better care than they used to, and may survive longer. However, although such children may have long-term care needs, they may receive crisis-driven, uncoordinated care, even in high-income countries.
Why Was This Study Done?
It is not well understood what proportion of hospital resource use is attributable to care for children with neurological impairments, although it's thought that this group may account for an increasing proportion of hospital resources. In this study, the researchers attempted to answer this question, specifically for the US, by evaluating national trends in hospital admissions for children with neurological impairments.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers used a multi-state database of US hospital admissions for children aged 0–18 years, known as the KID—the Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project's Kids' Inpatient Database—to identify the number of hospital admissions, total number of days spent in the hospital, and total health care costs for children with neurological impairments from 1997 to 2006. The researchers identified appropriate admissions by using diagnostic codes from the International Classification of Diseases, 9th Revision, Clinical Modification (ICD-9-CM), which were reviewed and approved by two pediatric neurologists.
The researchers found that from 1997 to 2006, there were 25,747,016 hospital admissions for children aged 0–18 years, and of these, 1,338,590 (5.2%) were associated with children who had a definite diagnosis of neurological impairment. The most prevalent diagnoses among all hospitalized children with neurological impairments were epilepsy (52.2%) and cerebral palsy (15.9%). Furthermore, across the study period, the proportion of children aged 13–18 years admitted to hospitals with neurological impairments increased from 7.3% to 9.9%. The researchers also found that children with neurological impairments accounted for an increasing proportion of days spent in a hospital (12.9% in 1997 to 13.9% in 2006). In addition, there was a substantial increase in admissions for infants with neurological impairments compared to infants without neurological impairments. The researchers also found that throughout the study period, there was a general pattern for children with neurological impairments to be admitted to pediatric hospitals, rather than general hospitals. Within children's hospitals, children with neurological impairments accounted for a substantial proportion of resources over the study period, including nearly one-third of all hospital charges.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings show that in the US, children with neurological impairments account for a substantial proportion of inpatient resources utilized, particularly within children's hospitals, necessitating the need for adequate clinical care and a coordination of efforts to ensure that the needs of children with neurological impairments are met. System-based efforts such as partnerships between hospitals and families of children with neurological impairments and the rigorous evaluation of care treatment strategies have the potential to promote quality care for children with neurological impairments. However, such efforts will work only if the current health care system is adequately staffed with appropriately educated professionals.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/pmed.1001158.
More information is available about the KID database used in this study
NHS Choices has further information about epilepsy, one of the most common types of neurological impairment examined in this study
Further information is available from PubMed Health about cerebral palsy, another neurological condition acquired during development that was studied in this dataset
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001158
PMCID: PMC3260313  PMID: 22272190
14.  Tracking Official Development Assistance for Reproductive Health in Conflict-Affected Countries 
PLoS Medicine  2009;6(6):e1000090.
Preeti Patel and colleagues report inequity in the disbursement of official development assistance for reproductive health between countries affected by conflict and those unaffected.
Background
Reproductive health needs are particularly acute in countries affected by armed conflict. Reliable information on aid investment for reproductive health in these countries is essential for improving the efficiency and effectiveness of aid. The purpose of this study was to analyse official development assistance (ODA) for reproductive health activities in conflict-affected countries from 2003 to 2006.
Methods and Findings
The Creditor Reporting System and the Financial Tracking System databases were the chosen data sources for the study. ODA disbursement for reproductive health activities to 18 conflict-affected countries was analysed for 2003, 2004, 2005, and 2006. An average of US$20.8 billion in total ODA was disbursed annually to the 18 conflict-affected countries between 2003 and 2006, of which US$509.3 million (2.4%) was allocated to reproductive health. This represents an annual average of US$1.30 disbursed per capita in the 18 sampled countries for reproductive health activities. Non-conflict-affected least-developed countries received 53.3% more ODA for reproductive health activities than conflict-affected least-developed countries, despite the latter generally having greater reproductive health needs. ODA disbursed for HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment increased by 119.4% from 2003 to 2006. The ODA disbursed for other direct reproductive health activities declined by 35.9% over the same period.
Conclusions
This study provides evidence of inequity in disbursement of reproductive health ODA between conflict-affected countries and non-conflict-affected countries, and between different reproductive health activities. These findings and the study's recommendations seek to support initiatives to make aid financing more responsive to need in the context of armed conflict.
Editors' Summary
Background
Reproductive health concerns the bodily functions and systems that are involved in conceiving and bearing offspring. A reproductively healthy person is able to have a responsible, satisfying and safe sex life and to reproduce if and when they chose to do so. More specifically, to ensure their reproductive health, both men and women need access to safe and effective birth control methods, they need to know how to avoid sexually transmitted diseases (including HIV/AIDS), and they need access to treatment should they become infected. Women also need access to appropriate health-care services to safeguard their own health and their offspring's health during pregnancy and childbirth. Reproductive health is essential for the wellbeing of individuals and families and for the social and economic development of nations. Consequently, some of the official development assistance (ODA) given to developing countries by wealthier nations and by international agencies is being used to improve reproductive health. Indeed, several of the Millennium Development Goals (internationally agreed targets designed to eradicate global poverty by 2015) are directly related to reproductive health, including the improvement of maternal health and the control of HIV/AIDS.
Why Was This Study Done?
Many developing countries, such as Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, and Sudan, are experiencing violent conflicts. Such conflicts tend to slow down the development of low-income countries, and can also cause harm to reproductive health by damaging the health-service infrastructure and by increasing exposure to sexual violence. Although conflict-affected low-income countries rely heavily on international and humanitarian aid for basic health-care provision, there is little reliable information about how much of this aid is invested in reproductive health in such countries. This information is needed to ensure that development aid is used effectively. In this study, therefore, the researchers analyze the amount of ODA disbursed (the amount of official development money paid to recipient countries) for reproductive health activities in conflict-affected countries between 2003 and 2006.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers identified eighteen countries (mostly “least-developed” countries as defined by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development; OEDC) that had been at war at sometime during the study period. They obtained information on ODA disbursements for reproductive health activities mainly from the Creditor Reporting System (CRS) database, which is maintained by the OECD, but also from the Financial Tracking System (FTS) database, which is maintained by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. An average of US$20.8 billion in ODA was disbursed annually to the 18 conflict-affected countries between 2003 and 2006. Only US$509.3 million (2.4%) of this was allocated to reproductive health. Put another way, each person living in these conflict-affected countries received US$1.30 per year for their reproductive health needs. By contrast, people in non-conflict-affected least-developed countries each received 50% more ODA for reproductive health activities, even though these countries often had better reproductive health indicators than the conflict-affected countries. The researchers also found that nearly half of ODA disbursed for reproductive health was used for HIV/AIDS-related activities. This portion of ODA increased slightly during the study period in the conflict-affected countries whereas ODA disbursed for other reproductive health activities fell by a third.
What Do These Findings Mean?
Although these findings do not take into account money provided to conflict-affected developing countries for reproductive health activities by large philanthropic organizations, they nevertheless reveal an inequality between conflict-affected and non-conflict affected countries in terms of the development money provided for reproductive health. This is a worrying finding given that reproductive health tends to suffer in countries affected by war and poor reproductive health can slow down development. The findings of this study also suggest that funding for non-HIV reproductive health activities is declining in conflict-affected countries. Importantly, they also highlight additional research that is needed to ensure that donors of development aid can be more responsive in future to the reproductive health needs of conflict-affected countries.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000090.
This study is further discussed in a PLoS Medicine Perspective by Paul Spiegel and colleagues
The World Health organization provides information about reproductive health, including information on its 2004 global strategy for reproductive health (in several languages)
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also provides information on reproductive health (in English and Spanish)
Wikipedia has a page on reproductive health (note that Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit; available in several languages
The United Nations provides information on the Millennium Development Goals
The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development provides information on ODA through its Creditor Reporting System database; the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs provides similar information for other donors through its Financial Tracking System database
The Reproductive Health Response in Conflict Consortium promotes access to reproductive health programs in emergencies and advocates for policies that support reproductive health of persons affected by armed conflict
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000090
PMCID: PMC2682761  PMID: 19513098
15.  Hospital Performance, the Local Economy, and the Local Workforce: Findings from a US National Longitudinal Study 
PLoS Medicine  2010;7(6):e1000297.
Blustein and colleagues examine the associations between changes in hospital performance and their local economic resources. Locationally disadvantaged hospitals perform poorly on key indicators, raising concerns that pay-for-performance models may not reduce inequality.
Background
Pay-for-performance is an increasingly popular approach to improving health care quality, and the US government will soon implement pay-for-performance in hospitals nationwide. Yet hospital capacity to perform (and improve performance) likely depends on local resources. In this study, we quantify the association between hospital performance and local economic and human resources, and describe possible implications of pay-for-performance for socioeconomic equity.
Methods and Findings
We applied county-level measures of local economic and workforce resources to a national sample of US hospitals (n = 2,705), during the period 2004–2007. We analyzed performance for two common cardiac conditions (acute myocardial infarction [AMI] and heart failure [HF]), using process-of-care measures from the Hospital Quality Alliance [HQA], and isolated temporal trends and the contributions of individual resource dimensions on performance, using multivariable mixed models. Performance scores were translated into net scores for hospitals using the Performance Assessment Model, which has been suggested as a basis for reimbursement under Medicare's “Value-Based Purchasing” program. Our analyses showed that hospital performance is substantially associated with local economic and workforce resources. For example, for HF in 2004, hospitals located in counties with longstanding poverty had mean HQA composite scores of 73.0, compared with a mean of 84.1 for hospitals in counties without longstanding poverty (p<0.001). Hospitals located in counties in the lowest quartile with respect to college graduates in the workforce had mean HQA composite scores of 76.7, compared with a mean of 86.2 for hospitals in the highest quartile (p<0.001). Performance on AMI measures showed similar patterns. Performance improved generally over the study period. Nevertheless, by 2007—4 years after public reporting began—hospitals in locationally disadvantaged areas still lagged behind their locationally advantaged counterparts. This lag translated into substantially lower net scores under the Performance Assessment Model for hospital reimbursement.
Conclusions
Hospital performance on clinical process measures is associated with the quantity and quality of local economic and human resources. Medicare's hospital pay-for-performance program may exacerbate inequalities across regions, if implemented as currently proposed. Policymakers in the US and beyond may need to take into consideration the balance between greater efficiency through pay-for-performance and socioeconomic equity.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
These days, many people are rewarded for working hard and efficiently by being given bonuses when they reach preset performance targets. With a rapidly aging population and rising health care costs, policy makers in many developed countries are considering ways of maximizing value for money, including rewarding health care providers when they meet targets, under “pay-for-performance.” In the UK, for example, a major pay-for-performance initiative—the Quality and Outcomes Framework—began in 2004. All the country's general practices (primary health care facilities that deal with all medical ailments) now detail their achievements in terms of numerous clinical quality indicators for common chronic conditions (for example, the regularity of blood sugar checks for people with diabetes). They are then rewarded on the basis of these results.
Why Was This Study Done?
In the US, the government is poised to implement a nationwide pay-for-performance program in hospitals within Medicare, the government program that provides health insurance to Americans aged 65 years or older, as well as people with disabilities. However, some observers are concerned about the effect that the proposed pay-for-performance program might have on the distribution of health care resources in the US. Pay-for-performance assumes that health care providers have the economic and human resources that they need to perform or to improve their performance. But, if a hospital's capacity to perform depends on local resources, payment based on performance might worsen existing health care inequalities because hospitals in under-resourced areas might lose funds to hospitals in more affluent regions. In other words, the government might act as a reverse Robin Hood, taking from the poor and giving to the rich. In this study, the researchers examine the association between hospital performance and local economic and human resources, to explore whether this scenario is a plausible result of the pending change in US hospital reimbursement.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
US hospitals have voluntarily reported their performance on indicators of clinical care (“process-of-care measures”) for acute myocardial infarction (AMI, heart attack), heart failure (HF), and pneumonia under the Hospital Quality Alliance (HQA) program since 2004. The researchers identified 2,705 hospitals that had fully reported process-of-care measures for AMI and HF in both 2004 and 2007. They then used the “Performance Assessment Model” (a methodology developed by the US Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to score hospital performance) to calculate scores for each hospital. Finally, they looked for associations between these scores and measures of the hospital's local economic and human resources such as population poverty levels and the percentage of college graduates in the workforce. Hospital performance was associated with local and economic workforce capacity, they report. Thus, hospitals in counties with longstanding poverty had lower average performance scores for HF and AMI than hospitals in affluent counties. Similarly, hospitals in counties with a low percentage of college graduates in the workforce had lower average performance scores than hospitals in counties where more of the workforce had been to college. Finally, although performance improved generally over the study period, hospitals in disadvantaged areas still lagged behind hospitals in advantaged areas in 2007.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings indicate that hospital performance (as measured by the clinical process measures considered here) is associated with the quantity and quality of local human and economic resources. Thus, the proposed Medicare hospital pay-for-performance program may exacerbate existing US health care inequalities by leading to the transfer of funds from hospitals in disadvantaged locations to those in advantaged locations. Although further studies are needed to confirm this conclusion, these findings have important implications for pay-for-performance programs in health care. They suggest that US policy makers may need to modify how they measure performance improvement—the current Performance Assessment Model gives hospitals that start from a low baseline less credit for improvements than those that start from a high baseline. This works against hospitals in disadvantaged locations, which start at a low baseline. Second and more generally, they suggest that there may be a tension between the efficiency goals of pay-for-performance and other equity goals of health care systems. In a world where resources vary across regions, the expectation that regions can perform equally may not be realistic.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000297.
KaiserEDU.org is an online resource for learning about the US health care system. It includes educational modules on such topics as the Medicare program and efforts to improve the quality of care
The Hospital Quality Alliance provides information on the quality of care in US hospitals
Information about the UK National Health Service Quality and Outcomes Framework pay-for-performance initiative for general practice surgeries is available
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000297
PMCID: PMC2893955  PMID: 20613863
16.  Decline in Diarrhea Mortality and Admissions after Routine Childhood Rotavirus Immunization in Brazil: A Time-Series Analysis 
PLoS Medicine  2011;8(4):e1001024.
A time series analysis by Manish Patel and colleagues shows that the introduction of rotavirus vaccination in Brazil is associated with reduced diarrhea-related deaths and hospital admissions in children under 5 years of age.
Background
In 2006, Brazil began routine immunization of infants <15 wk of age with a single-strain rotavirus vaccine. We evaluated whether the rotavirus vaccination program was associated with declines in childhood diarrhea deaths and hospital admissions by monitoring disease trends before and after vaccine introduction in all five regions of Brazil with varying disease burden and distinct socioeconomic and health indicators.
Methods and Findings
National data were analyzed with an interrupted time-series analysis that used diarrhea-related mortality or hospitalization rates as the main outcomes. Monthly mortality and admission rates estimated for the years after rotavirus vaccination (2007–2009) were compared with expected rates calculated from pre-vaccine years (2002–2005), adjusting for secular and seasonal trends. During the three years following rotavirus vaccination in Brazil, rates for diarrhea-related mortality and admissions among children <5 y of age were 22% (95% confidence interval 6%–44%) and 17% (95% confidence interval 5%–27%) lower than expected, respectively. A cumulative total of ∼1,500 fewer diarrhea deaths and 130,000 fewer admissions were observed among children <5 y during the three years after rotavirus vaccination. The largest reductions in deaths (22%–28%) and admissions (21%–25%) were among children younger than 2 y, who had the highest rates of vaccination. In contrast, lower reductions in deaths (4%) and admissions (7%) were noted among children two years of age and older, who were not age-eligible for vaccination during the study period.
Conclusions
After the introduction of rotavirus vaccination for infants, significant declines for three full years were observed in under-5-y diarrhea-related mortality and hospital admissions for diarrhea in Brazil. The largest reductions in diarrhea-related mortality and hospital admissions for diarrhea were among children younger than 2 y, who were eligible for vaccination as infants, which suggests that the reduced diarrhea burden in this age group was associated with introduction of the rotavirus vaccine. These real-world data are consistent with evidence obtained from clinical trials and strengthen the evidence base for the introduction of rotavirus vaccination as an effective measure for controlling severe and fatal childhood diarrhea.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Diarrheal disease, usually caused by infectious agents, is the second major cause of death in children aged under five years. As highlighted in a recent PLoS Medicine series, access to clean water and improved sanitation is the key to the primary prevention of diarrheal illnesses. Yet despite the targets of Millennium Development Goal 7 to half the number of people without access to clean water or improved sanitation by 2015, over one billion people worldwide do not currently have access to clean water and over two billion do not currently have access to improved sanitation.
Since enteric viruses are primarily transmitted directly from one person to another, they cannot be controlled completely by improvements in sanitation. Therefore, although not replacing the urgent need to provide access to clean water and improved sanitation for all, vaccination programs that protect young children against some infections that cause diarrhea, such as rotavirus, which accounts for one-third of all child deaths caused by diarrhea, are a pragmatic way forward. As large clinical trials have shown the safety and efficacy of rotavirus vaccines in population settings, in July 2009, the World Health Organization recommended including rotavirus vaccines into every country's national immunization programs.
Why Was This Study Done?
Although the protective effect of rotavirus vaccines has been assessed in various high-, middle-, and low-income settings, for reasons that remain unclear, the efficacy of live, oral rotavirus vaccines appears to be dependent on geographical location and correlated to the socioeconomic status of the population. Because of these concerns, evaluating the health impact of large-scale rotavirus vaccine programs and ensuring their equity in a real-world setting (rather than in clinical trial conditions) is important.
Therefore, the researchers addressed this issue by conducting this study to evaluate the effect of rotavirus vaccination on mortality and hospital admissions for diarrhea due to all causes among young children in the five regions of Brazil. The researchers chose to do this study in Brazil because of the high incidence of diarrhea-related deaths and hospital admissions and because five years ago, in July 2006, the Brazilian Ministry of Health introduced the single-strain rotavirus vaccine simultaneously in all 27 states through its national immunization program—allowing for “before” and “after” intervention analysis.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers obtained data on diarrheal deaths and hospital admissions in children aged under five years for the period 2002–2005 and 2007–2009 and data on rotavirus vaccination rates. The researchers got the data on diarrhea deaths from the Brazilian Mortality Information System—the national database of information collected from death certificates that covers 90% of all deaths in Brazil. The data on hospital admissions came from the electronic Hospital Information System of Brazil's Unified Health System (Sistema Unico de Saúde, SUS)—the publicly funded health-care system that covers roughly 70% of the hospitalizations and includes information on all admissions (from public hospitals and some private hospitals) authorized for payment by the Unified Health System. The researchers got regional rotavirus vaccination coverage estimates for 2007–2009 from the information department of the Ministry of Health, and estimated coverage of the two doses of oral rotavirus vaccine by taking the annual number of second doses administered divided by the number of infants in the region.
In 2007, an estimated 80% of infants received two doses of rotavirus vaccine, and by 2009, this proportion rose to 84% of children younger than one year of age. The researchers found that in the three years following the introduction of rotavirus vaccination, diarrhea-related mortality rates and admissions among children aged under five years were respectively 22% and 17% lower than expected, with a cumulative total of 1,500 fewer diarrhea deaths and 130,000 fewer admissions. Furthermore, the largest reductions in deaths and admissions were among children who had the highest rates of vaccination (less than two years of age), and the lowest reductions were among children who were not eligible for vaccination during the study period (aged 2–4 years).
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that the introduction of rotavirus vaccination in all areas of Brazil is associated with reduced diarrhea-related deaths and hospital admissions in children aged under five years. These real-world impact data are consistent with the clinical trials and strengthen the evidence base for rotavirus vaccination as an effective measure for controlling severe and fatal childhood diarrhea.
These findings have important global policy implications. In middle-income countries, such as Brazil, that are not eligible for financial support from donors, the potential reductions in admissions and other health-care costs will be important for cost-effectiveness considerations to justify the purchase of these still relatively expensive vaccines.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001024
PLoS Medicine has published a series on water and sanitation
More information is available from the World Health Organization on diarrheal illness in children
More information is available about rotavirus vaccines from the World Health Organization, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Rotavirus Vaccine Program
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001024
PMCID: PMC3079643  PMID: 21526228
17.  Physician Emigration from Sub-Saharan Africa to the United States: Analysis of the 2011 AMA Physician Masterfile 
PLoS Medicine  2013;10(9):e1001513.
Siankam Tankwanchi and colleagues used the AMA Physician Masterfile and the WHO Global Health Workforce Statistics on physicians in sub-Saharan Africa to determine trends in physician emigration to the United States.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Background
The large-scale emigration of physicians from sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) to high-income nations is a serious development concern. Our objective was to determine current emigration trends of SSA physicians found in the physician workforce of the United States.
Methods and Findings
We analyzed physician data from the World Health Organization (WHO) Global Health Workforce Statistics along with graduation and residency data from the 2011 American Medical Association Physician Masterfile (AMA-PM) on physicians trained or born in SSA countries who currently practice in the US. We estimated emigration proportions, year of US entry, years of practice before emigration, and length of time in the US. According to the 2011 AMA-PM, 10,819 physicians were born or trained in 28 SSA countries. Sixty-eight percent (n = 7,370) were SSA-trained, 20% (n = 2,126) were US-trained, and 12% (n = 1,323) were trained outside both SSA and the US. We estimated active physicians (age ≤70 years) to represent 96% (n = 10,377) of the total. Migration trends among SSA-trained physicians increased from 2002 to 2011 for all but one principal source country; the exception was South Africa whose physician migration to the US decreased by 8% (−156). The increase in last-decade migration was >50% in Nigeria (+1,113) and Ghana (+243), >100% in Ethiopia (+274), and >200% (+244) in Sudan. Liberia was the most affected by migration to the US with 77% (n = 175) of its estimated physicians in the 2011 AMA-PM. On average, SSA-trained physicians have been in the US for 18 years. They practiced for 6.5 years before US entry, and nearly half emigrated during the implementation years (1984–1999) of the structural adjustment programs.
Conclusion
Physician emigration from SSA to the US is increasing for most SSA source countries. Unless far-reaching policies are implemented by the US and SSA countries, the current emigration trends will persist, and the US will remain a leading destination for SSA physicians emigrating from the continent of greatest need.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Population growth and aging and increasingly complex health care interventions, as well as existing policies and market forces, mean that many countries are facing a shortage of health care professionals. High-income countries are addressing this problem in part by encouraging the immigration of foreign health care professionals from low- and middle-income countries. In the US, for example, international medical graduates (IMGs) can secure visas and permanent residency by passing examinations provided by the Educational Commission of Foreign Medical Graduates and by agreeing to provide care in areas that are underserved by US physicians. Inevitably, the emigration of physicians from low- and middle-income countries undermines health service delivery in the emigrating physicians' country of origin because physician supply is already inadequate in those countries. Physician emigration from sub-Saharan Africa, which has only 2% of the global physician workforce but a quarter of the global burden of disease, is particularly worrying. Since 1970, as a result of large-scale emigration and limited medical education, there has been negligible or negative growth in the density of physicians in many countries in sub-Saharan Africa. In Liberia, for example, in 1973, there were 7.76 physicians per 100,000 people but by 2008 there were only 1.37 physicians per 100,000 people; in the US, there are 250 physicians per 100,000 people.
Why Was This Study Done?
Before policy proposals can be formulated to address global inequities in physician distribution, a clear picture of the patterns of physician emigration from resource-limited countries is needed. In this study, the researchers use data from the 2011 American Medical Association Physician Masterfile (AMA-PM) to investigate the “brain drain” of physicians from sub-Saharan Africa to the US. The AMA-PM collects annual demographic, academic, and professional data on all residents (physicians undergoing training in a medical specialty) and licensed physicians who practice in the US.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers used data from the World Health Organization (WHO) Global Health Workforce Statistics and graduation and residency data from the 2011 AMA-PM to estimate physician emigration rates from sub-Saharan African countries, year of US entry, years of service provided before emigration to the US, and length of time in the US. There were 10,819 physicians who were born or trained in 28 sub-Saharan African countries in the 2011 AMA-PM. By using a published analysis of the 2002 AMA-PM, the researchers estimated that US immigration among sub-Saharan African-trained physicians had increased over the past decade for all the countries examined except South Africa, where physician emigration had decreased by 8%. Overall, the number of sub-Saharan African IMGs in the US had increased by 38% since 2002. More than half of this increase was accounted for by Nigerian IMGs. Liberia was the country most affected by migration of its physicians to the US—77% of its estimated 226 physicians were in the 2011 AMA-PM. On average, sub-Saharan African IMGs had been in the US for 18 years and had practiced for 6.5 years before emigration. Finally, nearly half of the sub-Saharan African IMGs had migrated to US between 1984 and 1995, years during which structural adjustment programs, which resulted in deep cuts to public health care services, were implemented in developing countries by international financial institutions as conditions for refinancing.
What Do These Findings Mean?
Although the sub-Saharan African IMGs in the 2011 AMA-PM only represent about 1% of all the physicians and less than 5% of the IMGs in the AMA-PM, these findings reveal a major loss of physicians from sub-Saharan Africa. They also suggest that emigration of physicians from sub-Saharan Africa is a growing problem and is likely to continue unless job satisfaction for physicians is improved in their country of origin. Moreover, because the AMA-PM only lists physicians who qualify for a US residency position, more physicians may have moved from sub-Saharan Africa to the US than reported here and may be working in other jobs incommensurate with their medical degrees (“brain waste”). The researchers suggest that physician emigration from sub-Saharan Africa to the US reflects the complexities in the labor markets for health care professionals in both Africa and the US and can be seen as low- and middle-income nations subsidizing the education of physicians in high-income countries. Policy proposals to address global inequities in physician distribution will therefore need both to encourage the recruitment, training, and retention of health care professionals in resource-limited countries and to persuade high-income countries to train more home-grown physicians to meet the needs of their own populations.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001513.
The Foundation for Advancement of International Medical Education and Research is a non-profit foundation committed to improving world health through education that was established in 2000 by the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates
The Global Health Workforce Alliance is a partnership of national governments, civil society, international agencies, finance institutions, researchers, educators, and professional associations dedicated to identifying, implementing and advocating for solutions to the chronic global shortage of health care professionals (available in several languages)
Information on the American Medical Association Physician Masterfile and the providers of physician data lists is available via the American Medical Associations website
The World Health Organization (WHO) annual World Health Statistics reports present the most recent health statistics for the WHO Member States
The Medical Education Partnership Initiative is a US-sponsored initiative that supports medical education and research in sub-Saharan African institutions, aiming to increase the quantity, quality, and retention of graduates with specific skills addressing the health needs of their national populations
CapacityPlus is the USAID-funded global project uniquely focused on the health workforce needed to achieve the Millennium Development Goals
Seed Global Health cultivates the next generation of health professionals by allying medical and nursing volunteers with their peers in resource-limited settings
"America is Stealing the Worlds Doctors", a 2012 New York Times article by Matt McAllester, describes the personal experience of a young doctor who emigrated from Zambia to the US
Path to United States Practice Is Long Slog to Foreign Doctors, a 2013 New York Times article by Catherine Rampell, describes the hurdles that immigrant physicians face in practicing in the US
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001513
PMCID: PMC3775724  PMID: 24068894
18.  Effect of Removing Direct Payment for Health Care on Utilisation and Health Outcomes in Ghanaian Children: A Randomised Controlled Trial 
PLoS Medicine  2009;6(1):e1000007.
Background
Delays in accessing care for malaria and other diseases can lead to disease progression, and user fees are a known barrier to accessing health care. Governments are introducing free health care to improve health outcomes. Free health care affects treatment seeking, and it is therefore assumed to lead to improved health outcomes, but there is no direct trial evidence of the impact of removing out-of-pocket payments on health outcomes in developing countries. This trial was designed to test the impact of free health care on health outcomes directly.
Methods and Findings
2,194 households containing 2,592 Ghanaian children under 5 y old were randomised into a prepayment scheme allowing free primary care including drugs, or to a control group whose families paid user fees for health care (normal practice); 165 children whose families had previously paid to enrol in the prepayment scheme formed an observational arm. The primary outcome was moderate anaemia (haemoglobin [Hb] < 8 g/dl); major secondary outcomes were health care utilisation, severe anaemia, and mortality. At baseline the randomised groups were similar. Introducing free primary health care altered the health care seeking behaviour of households; those randomised to the intervention arm used formal health care more and nonformal care less than the control group. Introducing free primary health care did not lead to any measurable difference in any health outcome. The primary outcome of moderate anaemia was detected in 37 (3.1%) children in the control and 36 children (3.2%) in the intervention arm (adjusted odds ratio 1.05, 95% confidence interval 0.66–1.67). There were four deaths in the control and five in the intervention group. Mean Hb concentration, severe anaemia, parasite prevalence, and anthropometric measurements were similar in each group. Families who previously self-enrolled in the prepayment scheme were significantly less poor, had better health measures, and used services more frequently than those in the randomised group.
Conclusions
In the study setting, removing out-of-pocket payments for health care had an impact on health care-seeking behaviour but not on the health outcomes measured.
Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov (#NCT00146692).
Evelyn Ansah and colleagues report on whether removing user fees has an impact on health care-seeking behavior and health outcomes in households with children in Ghana.
Editors' Summary
Background.
Every year, about 10 million children worldwide die before their fifth birthday. About half these deaths occur in developing countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Here, 166 children out of every 1,000 die before they are five. A handful of preventable diseases—acute respiratory infections, diarrhea, malaria, measles, and HIV/AIDS—are responsible for most of these deaths. For all these diseases, delays in accessing medical care contribute to the high death rate. In the case of malaria, for example, children are rarely taken to a clinic or hospital (formal health care) when they first develop symptoms, which include fever, chills, and anemia (lack of red blood cells). Instead, they are taken to traditional healers or given home remedies (informal health care). When they are finally taken to a clinic, it is often too late to save their lives. Many factors contribute to this delay in seeking formal health care. Sometimes, health care simply isn't available. In other instances, parents may worry about the quality of the service provided or may not seek formal health care because of their sociocultural beliefs. Finally, many parents cannot afford the travel costs and loss of earnings involved in taking their child to a clinic or the cost of the treatment itself.
Why Was This Study Done?
The financial cost of seeking formal health care is often the major barrier to accessing health care in poor countries. Consequently, the governments of several developing countries have introduced free health care in an effort to improve their nation's health. Such initiatives have increased the use of formal health care in several African countries; the introduction of user fees in Ghana in the early 1980s had the opposite effect. It is generally assumed that an increase in formal health care utilization improves health—but is this true? In this study, the researchers investigate the effect of removing direct payment for health care on health service utilization and health outcomes in Ghanaian children in a randomized controlled trial (a trial in which participants are randomly assigned to an “intervention” group or “control” group and various predefined outcomes are measured).
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers enrolled nearly 2,600 children under the age of 5 y living in a poor region of Ghana. Half were assigned to the group in which a prepayment scheme (paid for by the trial) provided free primary and basic secondary health care—this was the intervention arm. The rest were assigned to the control group in which families paid for health care. The trial's main outcome was the percentage of children with moderate anemia at the end of the malaria transmission season, an indicator of the effect of the intervention on malaria-related illness. Other outcomes included health care utilization (calculated from household diaries), severe anemia, and death. The researchers report that the children in the intervention arm attended formal health care facilities slightly more often and informal health care providers slightly less often than those in the control arm. About 3% of the children in both groups had moderate anemia at the end of the malaria transmission season. In addition, similar numbers of deaths, cases of severe anemia, fever episodes, and known infections with the malaria parasite were recorded in both groups of children.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings show that, in this setting, the removal of out-of-pocket payments for health care changed health care-seeking behavior but not health outcomes in children. This lack of a measured effect does not necessarily mean that the provision of free health care has no effect on children's health—it could be that the increase in health care utilization in the intervention arm compared to the control arm was too modest to produce a clear effect on health. Alternatively, in Ghana, the indirect costs of seeking health care may be more important than the direct cost of paying for treatment. Although the findings of this trial may not be generalizable to other countries, they nevertheless raise the possibility that providing free health care might not be the most cost-effective way of improving health in all developing countries. Importantly, they also suggest that changes in health care utilization should not be used in future trials as a proxy measure of improvements in health.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000007.
This research article is further discussed in a PLoS Medicine Perspective by Valéry Ridde and Slim Haddad
The World Health Organization provides information on child health and on global efforts to reduce child mortality, Millennium Development Goal 4; it also provides information about health in Ghana
The United Nations Web site provides further information on all the Millennium Development Goals, which were agreed to by the nations of the world in 2000 with the aim of ending extreme poverty by 2015 (in several languages)
The UK Department for International Development also provides information on the progress that is being made toward reducing child mortality
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000007
PMCID: PMC2613422  PMID: 19127975
19.  Effect on Postpartum Hemorrhage of Prophylactic Oxytocin (10 IU) by Injection by Community Health Officers in Ghana: A Community-Based, Cluster-Randomized Trial 
PLoS Medicine  2013;10(10):e1001524.
Cynthia Stanton and colleagues conducted a cluster-randomized controlled trial in rural Ghana to assess whether oxytocin given by injection by community health officers at home births was a feasible and safe option in preventing postpartum hemorrhage.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Background
Oxytocin (10 IU) is the drug of choice for prevention of postpartum hemorrhage (PPH). Its use has generally been restricted to medically trained staff in health facilities. We assessed the effectiveness, safety, and feasibility of PPH prevention using oxytocin injected by peripheral health care providers without midwifery skills at home births.
Methods and Findings
This community-based, cluster-randomized trial was conducted in four rural districts in Ghana. We randomly allocated 54 community health officers (stratified on district and catchment area distance to a health facility: ≥10 km versus <10 km) to intervention (one injection of oxytocin [10 IU] one minute after birth) and control (no provision of prophylactic oxytocin) arms. Births attended by a community health officer constituted a cluster. Our primary outcome was PPH, using multiple definitions; (PPH-1) blood loss ≥500 mL; (PPH-2) PPH-1 plus women who received early treatment for PPH; and (PPH-3) PPH-2 plus any other women referred to hospital for postpartum bleeding. Unsafe practice is defined as oxytocin use before delivery of the baby. We enrolled 689 and 897 women, respectively, into oxytocin and control arms of the trial from April 2011 to November 2012. In oxytocin and control arms, respectively, PPH-1 rates were 2.6% versus 5.5% (RR: 0.49; 95% CI: 0.27–0.88); PPH-2 rates were 3.8% versus 10.8% (RR: 0.35; 95% CI: 0.18–0.63), and PPH-3 rates were similar to those of PPH-2. Compared to women in control clusters, those in the intervention clusters lost 45.1 mL (17.7–72.6) less blood. There were no cases of oxytocin use before delivery of the baby and no major adverse events requiring notification of the institutional review boards. Limitations include an unblinded trial and imbalanced numbers of participants, favoring controls.
Conclusion
Maternal health care planners can consider adapting this model to extend the use of oxytocin into peripheral settings including, in some contexts, home births.
Trial registration
ClinicalTrials.gov NCT01108289
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Many women in low-and middle-income countries die unnecessarily during childbirth, even though the solutions to prevent or manage complications are well known. Maternal death rates are highest amongst poor women living in remote areas, as they are least likely to have access to adequate health care. One of the United Nation's Millennium Development Goals is to reduce maternal death rates by three-quarters by 2015. Between 1990 and 2010, these rates were nearly halved. So there is still some way to go to meet the target.
One of the major causes of maternal death is excessive bleeding after birth, known as postpartum hemorrhage (PPH). The highest rates of PPH are found in Africa (28% of births), with an overall global rate of 11%. PPH can be caused by the uterus not contracting after the baby is born, damage to tissues and blood vessels, retention of the placenta, and problems with blood-clotting.
PPH can be prevented by an injection of oxytocin (a hormone) or with tablets of the drug misoprostol immediately after birth. Other drugs exist but are used much less frequently in low-income countries. If the mother does bleed excessively, then these interventions can also be used to treat PPH in the hours following birth. These drugs cause the uterus to contract. Continued severe bleeding requires emergency treatment in hospital. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that in situations where women give birth without the assistance of a trained midwife, priority should be given to preventing PPH because access to emergency services may be limited.
Why Was This Study Done?
Of the two most common options for preventing PPH, oxytocin is generally the preferred choice. It has the advantage of having no side effects, whereas misoprostol can cause fever and shivering. A repeat injection of oxytocin can also be given if the mother continues to bleed excessively, whereas a dose of misoprostol after birth should only be given once. A major concern about both drugs is that the timing of administration must be precise. Giving a drug that causes the uterus to contract before birth can be harmful to both mother and baby. A disadvantage of oxytocin is that it requires someone trained and authorized to give an injection. For this reason, oxytocin has so far been generally limited to hospitals and clinics, where it can be administered by medically trained professionals. Another disadvantage is that oxytocin is weakened by heat, which means its storage and use may be impractical in hot countries.
The main aim of this study was therefore to find out whether health workers without midwifery skills are able to administer oxytocin safely when attending home births in poor, rural communities.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers carried out a cluster-randomized controlled trial in four rural districts in Ghana, working with community health officers (CHOs). CHOs are trained for two years in giving childhood immunizations and antenatal and postnatal care, but are not trained midwives. 54 CHOs were randomized to one of two groups. The CHOs in the first group gave a preventative oxytocin injection to the mother at every birth they attended. The oxytocin was administered using a pre-filled, disposable device called Uniject that is easier and quicker to use than a syringe and needle. The packaging also included a heat-sensitive label that indicated whether the oxytocin still met the manufacturer's criteria for an acceptably potent drug. CHOs in the second group acted as controls, and did not give any oxytocin injections to prevent PPH. The women seen by each CHO formed a cluster. Comparisons were made across the clusters of women that either received or did not receive the preventative intervention.
The researchers found that the women who were given a preventative oxytocin injection lost less blood after birth than the women who did not receive a preventative injection. There were also fewer cases of PPH amongst the women who received oxytocin for PPH prevention. 2.6% of the women who received a preventative oxytocin injection experienced PPH, compared to 5.5% of the controls. Therefore the risk of PPH was approximately halved. There were no cases of oxytocin use before delivery of the baby and no difference in the frequency of other birth complications between women in the intervention and control groups.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings show that under the trial conditions, CHOs can safely administer oxytocin injections when attending home births in poor, rural settings. This intervention also proved practical to use in the Uniject format.
The study therefore suggests that oxytocin should be considered for use in regions where maternal deaths from PPH are still unacceptably high. There are also several noteworthy limitations, such as unblinding and the imbalance between participant groups. The researchers emphasized that their findings do not mean that oxytocin is always a better choice than misoprostol for home births. Many factors will influence which intervention is the most feasible, such as the local availability of sufficiently skilled health professionals, the relative cost and availability of the two drugs, as well as ease of access to emergency health services.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001524.
This study is further discussed in a PLOS Medicine Perspective by João Paulo Souza
WHO Factsheet on Maternal Mortality
United Nations Population Fund's Goals to improve sexual and reproductive health
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001524
PMCID: PMC3794862  PMID: 24130463
20.  Accelerating Policy Decisions to Adopt Haemophilus influenzae Type b Vaccine: A Global, Multivariable Analysis 
PLoS Medicine  2010;7(3):e1000249.
Jessica Shearer and colleagues analyze data from 147 countries to identify factors that influence the time taken to introduce routine vaccination against Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib).
Background
Adoption of new and underutilized vaccines by national immunization programs is an essential step towards reducing child mortality. Policy decisions to adopt new vaccines in high mortality countries often lag behind decisions in high-income countries. Using the case of Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) vaccine, this paper endeavors to explain these delays through the analysis of country-level economic, epidemiological, programmatic and policy-related factors, as well as the role of the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI Alliance).
Methods and Findings
Data for 147 countries from 1990 to 2007 were analyzed in accelerated failure time models to identify factors that are associated with the time to decision to adopt Hib vaccine. In multivariable models that control for Gross National Income, region, and burden of Hib disease, the receipt of GAVI support speeded the time to decision by a factor of 0.37 (95% CI 0.18–0.76), or 63%. The presence of two or more neighboring country adopters accelerated decisions to adopt by a factor of 0.50 (95% CI 0.33–0.75). For each 1% increase in vaccine price, decisions to adopt are delayed by a factor of 1.02 (95% CI 1.00–1.04). Global recommendations and local studies were not associated with time to decision.
Conclusions
This study substantiates previous findings related to vaccine price and presents new evidence to suggest that GAVI eligibility is associated with accelerated decisions to adopt Hib vaccine. The influence of neighboring country decisions was also highly significant, suggesting that approaches to support the adoption of new vaccines should consider supply- and demand-side factors.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Every year, immunization averts more than 2 million deaths by preparing people's immune systems to recognize and attack disease-causing organisms (pathogens) rapidly and effectively. Although the immune system is designed to protect the human body against infections, the first time a person is exposed to a pathogen (usually during early childhood) their immune system can take some time to respond. As a result, they can become seriously ill or even die. However, the immune system “learns” from the experience and when the pathogen is encountered again, the immune system swings into action much more quickly. Immunization or vaccination is a safe way to make individuals resistant to infectious diseases. It works by exposing them to weakened or dead pathogens or to pathogen molecules (antigens) that the immune system recognizes as foreign. Widespread, routine immunization of children is, therefore, an essential component of national and global strategies to reduce childhood illnesses and deaths.
Why Was This Study Done?
Although many factors affect the uptake of immunization (in particular, vaccine prices), national policy decisions to adopt new vaccines are an essential step toward improving coverage. Unfortunately, these decisions are often delayed in developing countries. Thus, although many industrialized countries have routinely immunized their children with the highly effective Haemophilus influenza type b (Hib) conjugate vaccine since it became available in the early 1990s, only 13 low-income countries were using the vaccine in 2004. Hib bacteria, which cause pneumonia (lung infection) and meningitis (brain inflammation), kill about 370,000 unvaccinated young children every year. In this study, the researchers try to explain delays in the adoption of routine Hib vaccination in developing countries by analyzing the associations between Hib vaccination and factors such as national economic status, local Hib burden, and eligibility for support from the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI Alliance; a public–private partnership that offers financial, technical, and health systems support for the introduction of national immunization programs to developing countries that meet certain eligibility criteria).
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers used a statistical approach called accelerated failure time analysis to analyze data collected in 147 countries between 1990 and 2007 on vaccine costs, Hib disease incidence, GAVI eligibility, and other factors that could influence decision-makers' perceptions of the costs and benefits of Hib vaccination. After allowing for gross national income, region, and burden of Hib disease, the researchers identified several factors that influenced the time between the availability of a Hib conjugate vaccine in a country and a decision being made to introduce routine Hib vaccination. The receipt of GAVI support speeded the decision to adopt vaccination by 63%, for example, and sharing borders with two or more countries that had adopted the vaccine speeded the decision by 50%. By contrast, for each 1% increase in vaccine costs, the time to decision to adopt vaccination was delayed by 2%. The 1998 and 2006 World Health Organization recommendations on routine Hib vaccination and the existence of local studies on Hib disease had no influence on the time to decision.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings confirm previous studies that showed that increases in the price of Hib vaccine increase the time to adoption. In addition, they suggest that GAVI eligibility accelerates decisions to adopt this vaccine and show that the decisions made by neighboring countries are important, which suggests that policy diffusion may occur. Thus, in the case of adoption of the Hib vaccine, both supply-side and demand-side factors seem to be important. Its is relevant to note that during writing of the article, JCS, MLS, MRR, APB, and RAH were employed by the Hib Initiative, which was funded by the GAVI Alliance. The findings do not necessarily represent the views, policies or decisions of the Hib Initiative or the GAVI Alliance. Importantly, these findings are explanatory, not predictive, so they cannot be applied directly to new vaccines to improve their rate of adoption. Nevertheless, these findings highlight the potential importance of setting up formal and informal networks to facilitate policy diffusion and suggest that long-term price and supply certainty might be factors that could help to accelerate national decisions to adopt new and/or underutilized vaccines and other public-health technologies.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000249.
The World Health Organization provides information on immunization and on Haemophilus influenza type b (in several languages)
The GAVI Alliance Web site describes the work of this public–private partnership and provides details of developing countries eligible for Hib vaccination support
The Hib Initiative aims to reduce the risk of childhood death and disability through sustained use of Hib vaccine
MedlinePlus provides links to further resources on immunization and information on the Haemophilus influenzae type b vaccine (in English and Spanish)
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000249
PMCID: PMC2838745  PMID: 20305714
21.  Research on Implementation of Interventions in Tuberculosis Control in Low- and Middle-Income Countries: A Systematic Review 
PLoS Medicine  2012;9(12):e1001358.
Cobelens and colleagues systematically reviewed research on implementation and cost-effectiveness of the WHO-recommended interventions for tuberculosis.
Background
Several interventions for tuberculosis (TB) control have been recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) over the past decade. These include isoniazid preventive therapy (IPT) for HIV-infected individuals and household contacts of infectious TB patients, diagnostic algorithms for rule-in or rule-out of smear-negative pulmonary TB, and programmatic treatment for multidrug-resistant TB. There is no systematically collected data on the type of evidence that is publicly available to guide the scale-up of these interventions in low- and middle-income countries. We investigated the availability of published evidence on their effectiveness, delivery, and cost-effectiveness that policy makers need for scaling-up these interventions at country level.
Methods and Findings
PubMed, Web of Science, EMBASE, and several regional databases were searched for studies published from 1 January 1990 through 31 March 2012 that assessed health outcomes, delivery aspects, or cost-effectiveness for any of these interventions in low- or middle-income countries. Selected studies were evaluated for their objective(s), design, geographical and institutional setting, and generalizability. Studies reporting health outcomes were categorized as primarily addressing efficacy or effectiveness of the intervention. These criteria were used to draw landscapes of published research. We identified 59 studies on IPT in HIV infection, 14 on IPT in household contacts, 44 on rule-in diagnosis, 19 on rule-out diagnosis, and 72 on second-line treatment. Comparative effectiveness studies were relatively few (n = 9) and limited to South America and sub-Saharan Africa for IPT in HIV-infection, absent for IPT in household contacts, and rare for second-line treatment (n = 3). Evaluations of diagnostic and screening algorithms were more frequent (n = 19) but geographically clustered and mainly of non-comparative design. Fifty-four studies evaluated ways of delivering these interventions, and nine addressed their cost-effectiveness.
Conclusions
There are substantial gaps in published evidence for scale-up for five WHO-recommended TB interventions settings at country level, which for many countries possibly precludes program-wide implementation of these interventions. There is a strong need for rigorous operational research studies to be carried out in programmatic settings to inform on best use of existing and new interventions in TB control.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Tuberculosis (TB), caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis, is curable and preventable, but according to the World Health Organization (WHO), in 2011, 8.7 million people had symptoms of TB (usually a productive cough and fever) and 1.4 million people—95% from low- and middle-income countries—died from TB. TB is also the leading cause of death in people with HIV worldwide, and in 2010 about 10 million children were orphaned as a result of their parents dying from TB. To help reduce the considerable global burden of TB, a global initiative called the Stop TB Partnership, led by WHO, has implemented a strategy to reduce deaths from TB by 50% by 2015—even greater than the target of Millennium Development Goal 6 (to reverse the increase in TB incidence by 2015).
Why Was This Study Done?
Over the past few years, WHO has recommended that countries implement several interventions to help control the spread of tuberculosis through measures to improve prevention, diagnosis, and treatment. Five such interventions currently recommended by WHO are: treatment with isoniazid to prevent TB among people who are HIV positive, and also among household contacts of people infected with TB; the use of clinical pathways (algorithms) for diagnosing TB in people accessing health care who have a negative smear test—the most commonly used diagnostic test, which relies on sputum samples—(“rule-in algorithms”); screening algorithms for excluding TB in people who have HIV (“rule-out algorithms”); and finally, provision of second-line treatment for multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (a form of TB that does not respond to the most commonly used drugs) under programmatic conditions. The effectiveness of these interventions, their costs, and the practicalities of implementation are all important information for countries seeking to control TB following the WHO guidelines, but little is known about the availability of this information. Therefore, in this study the researchers systematically reviewed published studies to find evidence of the effectiveness of each of these interventions when implemented in routine practice, and also for additional information on the setting and conditions of implemented interventions, which might be useful to other countries.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
Using a specific search strategy, the researchers comprehensively searched through several key databases of publications, including regional databases, to identify 208 (out of 11,489 found initially) suitable research papers published between January 1990 and March 2012. For included studies, the researchers also noted the geographical location and setting and the type and design of study.
Of the 208 included studies, 59 focused on isoniazid prevention therapy in HIV infection, and only 14 on isoniazid prevention therapy for household contacts. There were 44 studies on “rule-in” clinical diagnosis, 19 on “rule-out” clinical diagnosis, and 72 studies on second-line treatment for TB. Studies on each intervention had some weaknesses, and overall, researchers found that there were very few real-world studies reporting on the effectiveness of interventions in program settings (rather than under optimal conditions in research settings). Few studies evaluated the methods used to implement the intervention or addressed delivery and operational issues (such as adherence to treatment), and there were limited economic evaluations of the recommended interventions. Furthermore, the researchers found that in general, the South Asian region was poorly represented.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that there is limited evidence on effectiveness, delivery, and cost-effectiveness to guide the scale-up of five WHO recommended interventions to control tuberculosis in the countries and settings, despite the urgent need for such interventions to be implemented. The poor evidence base identified in this review highlights the tension between the decision to adopt the recommendation and its implementation adapted to local circumstances, and may be an important reason as to why these interventions are not implemented in many countries. This study also suggests creative thinking is necessary to address the gaps between WHO recommendations and global health policy on new interventions and their real-world implementation in country-wide TB control programs. Future research should focus more on operational studies, the results of which should be made publicly available, and researchers, donors, and medical journals could perhaps re-consider their priorities to help bridge the knowledge gap identified in this study.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001358.
WHO has a wide range of information about TB and research on TB, including more about the STOP TB strategy and the STOP TB Partnership
The UN website has more information about MDG 6
The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria has specific information about progress on TB control
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001358
PMCID: PMC3525528  PMID: 23271959
22.  Estimating Population Cause-Specific Mortality Fractions from in-Hospital Mortality: Validation of a New Method 
PLoS Medicine  2007;4(11):e326.
Background
Cause-of-death data for many developing countries are not available. Information on deaths in hospital by cause is available in many low- and middle-income countries but is not a representative sample of deaths in the population. We propose a method to estimate population cause-specific mortality fractions (CSMFs) using data already collected in many middle-income and some low-income developing nations, yet rarely used: in-hospital death records.
Methods and Findings
For a given cause of death, a community's hospital deaths are equal to total community deaths multiplied by the proportion of deaths occurring in hospital. If we can estimate the proportion dying in hospital, we can estimate the proportion dying in the population using deaths in hospital. We propose to estimate the proportion of deaths for an age, sex, and cause group that die in hospital from the subset of the population where vital registration systems function or from another population. We evaluated our method using nearly complete vital registration (VR) data from Mexico 1998–2005, which records whether a death occurred in a hospital. In this validation test, we used 45 disease categories. We validated our method in two ways: nationally and between communities. First, we investigated how the method's accuracy changes as we decrease the amount of Mexican VR used to estimate the proportion of each age, sex, and cause group dying in hospital. Decreasing VR data used for this first step from 100% to 9% produces only a 12% maximum relative error between estimated and true CSMFs. Even if Mexico collected full VR information only in its capital city with 9% of its population, our estimation method would produce an average relative error in CSMFs across the 45 causes of just over 10%. Second, we used VR data for the capital zone (Distrito Federal and Estado de Mexico) and estimated CSMFs for the three lowest-development states. Our estimation method gave an average relative error of 20%, 23%, and 31% for Guerrero, Chiapas, and Oaxaca, respectively.
Conclusions
Where accurate International Classification of Diseases (ICD)-coded cause-of-death data are available for deaths in hospital and for VR covering a subset of the population, we demonstrated that population CSMFs can be estimated with low average error. In addition, we showed in the case of Mexico that this method can substantially reduce error from biased hospital data, even when applied to areas with widely different levels of development. For countries with ICD-coded deaths in hospital, this method potentially allows the use of existing data to inform health policy.
Working in Mexico and using vital registration data, Chris Murray and colleagues achieved encouraging results with a new method to estimate population cause-specific mortality fractions.
Editors' Summary
Background.
Governments and international health agencies need accurate information on the leading causes of death in different populations to help them develop and monitor effective health policies and programs. It is pointless investing money in screening programs for a type of cancer in a country where that cancer is very rare, for example, or setting up treatment centers for an infectious disease in a region where the disease no longer occurs. In developed countries, most deaths are recorded in vital registration (VR) systems. These databases record the specific cause of death, which is assigned by doctors using the International Classification of Diseases (ICD), an internationally agreed-upon list of codes for hundreds of diseases. Across the developing world, however, only one death in four is recorded by VR systems; in some very poor countries, only one death in 20 is recorded accurately. With this paucity of cause-of-death data, developing countries cannot make good decisions about how to spend their limited resources.
Why Was This Study Done?
The establishment of full VR systems in all developing countries will take time and may not always be possible, but many of these nations already collect ICD-coded data on in-hospital deaths. Unfortunately, this information does not accurately reflect the causes of death across whole populations. For example, the diseases that affect rich people differ from those that affect poor people, and rich people are more likely to die in hospital than poor people. Thus, although for each cause of death, the number of deaths in hospital equals the total number of deaths in the community multiplied by the proportion of deaths occurring in hospital, this proportion is different for each cause. If these proportions could be estimated, then in-hospital death records could be used to determine the fraction of the population that dies from each cause—the population's “cause-specific mortality fractions” (CSMFs). In this study, the researchers have devised a method that allows them to do this, and have used near-complete VR data collected between 1998 and 2005 in Mexico to test their method.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers developed a mathematical method that estimates the proportion of deaths occurring in hospitals for people grouped together by their age, sex, and cause of death (an “age–sex–cause group”) using VR data from a subset of the whole population. They tested their method for 45 nonoverlapping but all-encompassing diseases using the Mexican VR data (which records when a person has died in the hospital). They found that if they decreased the amount of VR data used to estimate the proportion of each age, sex, cause group dying in hospital from 100% to 9%, the maximum relative error between the true and estimated CSMFs was only 12%. When they just used the VR information from the capital city (9% of the population), the average relative error in CSMFs (a measure of how much the estimated and true CSMFs differ) across all 45 causes of death was only 10%. Finally, when they used VR data for the main urban area of Mexico (where access to hospitals is good) to estimate CSMFs for the three least developed states of Mexico, the average relative errors were 20%, 23%, and 31%.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings indicate that the researchers' method can provide accurate estimates of population CSMFs using ICD-coded cause-of-death data from deaths in hospital and VR data that cover part of the population. Even when the VR data from a developed area are used to calculate the CSMFs in a poorly developed area, the method produces a more accurate estimate than in-hospital death data used alone. Because the researchers have only tested their method for one country, additional “validation studies” need to be done using data from other countries with a good-quality VR system. If the method does work in these other settings, then existing data on in-hospital deaths could be used to determine the leading causes of death in countries with poor VR systems. Such information would be invaluable in establishing effective health policies.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.0040326.
• An accompanying paper by the same authors describes an alternative approach to collecting accurate cause-of-death data in developing countries
• The World Health Organization provides information on health statistics and health information systems, on the International Classification of Diseases, and on the Health Metrics Network, a global collaboration focused on improving sources of vital statistics and cause-of-death data
• Grand Challenges in Global Health provides information on research into better ways for developing countries to measure their health status
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0040326
PMCID: PMC2080647  PMID: 18031195
23.  Treatment Outcomes and Cost-Effectiveness of Shifting Management of Stable ART Patients to Nurses in South Africa: An Observational Cohort 
PLoS Medicine  2011;8(7):e1001055.
Lawrence Long and colleagues report that “down-referring” stable HIV patients from a doctor-managed, hospital-based ART clinic to a nurse-managed primary health facility provides good health outcomes and cost-effective treatment for patients.
Background
To address human resource and infrastructure shortages, resource-constrained countries are being encouraged to shift HIV care to lesser trained care providers and lower level health care facilities. This study evaluated the cost-effectiveness of down-referring stable antiretroviral therapy (ART) patients from a doctor-managed, hospital-based ART clinic to a nurse-managed primary health care facility in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Methods and Findings
Criteria for down-referral were stable ART (≥11 mo), undetectable viral load within the previous 10 mo, CD4>200 cells/mm3, <5% weight loss over the last three visits, and no opportunistic infections. All patients down-referred from the treatment-initiation site to the down-referral site between 1 February 2008 and 1 January 2009 were compared to a matched sample of patients eligible for down-referral but not down-referred. Outcomes were assigned based on vital and health status 12 mo after down-referral eligibility and the average cost per outcome estimated from patient medical record data.
The down-referral site (n = 712) experienced less death and loss to follow up than the treatment-initiation site (n = 2,136) (1.7% versus 6.2%, relative risk = 0.27, 95% CI 0.15–0.49). The average cost per patient-year for those in care and responding at 12 mo was US$492 for down-referred patients and US$551 for patients remaining at the treatment-initiation site (p<0.0001), a savings of 11%. Down-referral was the cost-effective strategy for eligible patients.
Conclusions
Twelve-month outcomes of stable ART patients who are down-referred to a primary health clinic are as good as, or better than, the outcomes of similar patients who are maintained at a hospital-based ART clinic. The cost of treatment with down-referral is lower across all outcomes and would save 11% for patients who remain in care and respond to treatment. These results suggest that this strategy would increase treatment capacity and conserve resources without compromising patient outcomes.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
AIDS has killed more than 25 million people since 1981, and about 33 million people are now infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Because HIV destroys immune system cells, which leaves infected individuals susceptible to other infections, early in the AIDS epidemic, most HIV-infected people died within ten years of infection. Then, in 1996, antiretroviral therapy (ART), which can keep HIV in check for many years, became available. For people living in developed countries, HIV infection became a chronic condition, but people in developing countries were not so lucky—ART was prohibitively expensive and so a diagnosis of HIV infection remained a death sentence in many regions of the world. In 2003, this situation was declared a global health emergency, and governments, international agencies, and funding bodies began to implement plans to increase ART coverage in developing countries. As a result, nowadays, more than a third of people in low- and middle-income countries who need ART are receiving it.
Why Was This Study Done?
Unfortunately, shortages of human resources in developing countries are impeding progress toward universal ART coverage. In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, where two-thirds of all HIV-positive people live, there are too few doctors to supervise all the ART that is required. Various organizations are therefore encouraging a shift of clinical care responsibilities for people receiving ART from doctors to less highly trained, less expensive, and more numerous members of the clinical workforce. Thus, in South Africa, plans are underway to reduce the role of hospital doctors in ART and to increase the role of primary health clinic nurses. One specific strategy involves “down-referring” patients whose HIV infection is under control (“stable ART patients”) from a doctor-managed, hospital-based ART clinic to a nurse-managed primary health care facility. In this observational study, the researchers investigate the effect of this strategy on treatment outcomes and costs by retrospectively analyzing data collected from a cohort (group) of adult patients initially treated by doctors at the Themba Lethu Clinic in Johannesburg and then down-referred to a nearby primary health clinic where nurses supervised their treatment.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
Patients attending the hospital-based ART clinic were invited to transfer to the down-referral site if they had been on ART for at least 11 months and met criteria that indicated that ART was controlling their HIV infection. Each of the 712 stable ART patients who agreed to be down-referred to the primary health clinic was matched to three patients eligible for down-referral but not down-referred (2,136 patients), and clinical outcomes and costs in the patient groups were compared 12 months after down-referral eligibility. At this time point, 1.7% of the down-referred patients had died or had been lost to follow up compared to 6.2% of the patients who continued to receive hospital-based ART. The average cost per patient-year for those in care and responding at 12 months was US$492 for down-referred patients but US$551 for patients remaining at the hospital. Finally, the down-referral site spent US$509 to produce a patient who was in care and responding one year after down-referral on average, whereas the hospital spent US$602 for each responding patient. Thus, the down-referral strategy (nurse-managed care) was more cost-effective than continued hospital treatment (doctor-managed care).
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings indicate that, at least for this pair of study sites, the 12-month outcomes of stable ART patients who were down-referred to a primary health clinic were as good as or better than the outcomes of similar patients who remained at a hospital-based ART clinic. Moreover, the down-referral strategy saved 11% of costs for patients who remained in care and responded to treatment and appeared to be cost-effective, although additional studies are needed to confirm this last finding. Because this is an observational study (that is, patients eligible for down-referral were not randomly assigned to hospital or primary care facility treatment), it is possible that some unknown factor was responsible for the difference in outcomes between the two patient groups. Nevertheless, these results suggest that the down-referral strategy tested in this study could increase ART capacity and conserve resources without compromising patient outcomes in South Africa and possibly in other resource-limited settings.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/journal.pmed.pmed.1001055.
This study is further discussed in a PLoS Medicine Perspective by Ford and Mills
The US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases provides information on HIV infection and AIDS
HIV InSite has comprehensive information on HIV/AIDS
Information is available from Avert, an international AIDS charity, on many aspects of HIV/AIDS, including information on HIV and AIDS in Africa and on universal access to AIDS treatment (in English and Spanish)
The World Health Organization provides information about universal access to AIDS treatment, including its 2010 progress report (in English, French and Spanish)
Right to Care, a non-profit organization that aims to deliver and support quality clinical services in Southern Africa for the prevention, treatment, and management of HIV, provides information on down-referral
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001055
PMCID: PMC3139666  PMID: 21811402
24.  Heart Failure Care in Low- and Middle-Income Countries: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis 
PLoS Medicine  2014;11(8):e1001699.
In a systematic review and meta-analysis, Kazem Rahimi and colleagues examine the burden of heart failure in low- and middle-income countries.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Background
Heart failure places a significant burden on patients and health systems in high-income countries. However, information about its burden in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) is scant. We thus set out to review both published and unpublished information on the presentation, causes, management, and outcomes of heart failure in LMICs.
Methods and Findings
Medline, Embase, Global Health Database, and World Health Organization regional databases were searched for studies from LMICs published between 1 January 1995 and 30 March 2014. Additional unpublished data were requested from investigators and international heart failure experts. We identified 42 studies that provided relevant information on acute hospital care (25 LMICs; 232,550 patients) and 11 studies on the management of chronic heart failure in primary care or outpatient settings (14 LMICs; 5,358 patients). The mean age of patients studied ranged from 42 y in Cameroon and Ghana to 75 y in Argentina, and mean age in studies largely correlated with the human development index of the country in which they were conducted (r = 0.71, p<0.001). Overall, ischaemic heart disease was the main reported cause of heart failure in all regions except Africa and the Americas, where hypertension was predominant. Taking both those managed acutely in hospital and those in non-acute outpatient or community settings together, 57% (95% confidence interval [CI]: 49%–64%) of patients were treated with angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors, 34% (95% CI: 28%–41%) with beta-blockers, and 32% (95% CI: 25%–39%) with mineralocorticoid receptor antagonists. Mean inpatient stay was 10 d, ranging from 3 d in India to 23 d in China. Acute heart failure accounted for 2.2% (range: 0.3%–7.7%) of total hospital admissions, and mean in-hospital mortality was 8% (95% CI: 6%–10%). There was substantial variation between studies (p<0.001 across all variables), and most data were from urban tertiary referral centres. Only one population-based study assessing incidence and/or prevalence of heart failure was identified.
Conclusions
The presentation, underlying causes, management, and outcomes of heart failure vary substantially across LMICs. On average, the use of evidence-based medications tends to be suboptimal. Better strategies for heart failure surveillance and management in LMICs are needed.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
A healthy heart pumps about 23,000 liters of blood around the body every day. This blood delivers oxygen and nutrients to the rest of the body and carries carbon dioxide and waste products away from the tissues and organs. A healthy heart is therefore essential for life. Unfortunately, many people (particularly elderly people) develop heart failure, a life-threatening condition in which the heart no longer pumps enough blood to meet all the body's needs because it has become too weak or too stiff to work properly. Heart failure can affect the left, right, or both sides of the heart, and it can develop slowly (chronic heart failure) or quickly (acute heart failure). Its symptoms include swelling (edema) of the feet, ankles, and legs, tiredness, and shortness of breath. Heart failure, which is most commonly caused by coronary heart disease (blockage with fatty deposits of the blood vessels that supply the heart) or high blood pressure (hypertension), cannot be cured. However, lifestyle changes (for example, losing weight and avoiding salty food) and various medications can control heart failure and improve the quality of life of patients.
Why Was This Study Done?
In high-income countries (HICs), heart failure is a common condition that typically consumes 1%–2% of healthcare resources. Experts believe that heart failure may soon become a major public health issue in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) because fewer people are dying of infectious diseases in these countries than in the past. LMICs need to plan for this eventuality, but little is known about the current burden of heart failure in LMICs. Here, the researchers undertake a systematic review and meta-analysis of published and unpublished information on the presentation, causes, management, and outcomes of heart failure in LMICs. A systematic review uses predefined criteria to identify all the research on a given topic; a meta-analysis uses statistical approaches to combine the results of several studies.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers identified 49 published studies and four unpublished databases that provided information on nearly 240,000 hospitalizations for acute and chronic heart failure in 31 LMICs. Across these LMICs, the average age of patients admitted to hospital for heart failure was 63 years, more than ten years younger than the average admission age in HICs. Differences in mean age at presentation, which ranged from 42 years in Cameroon and Ghana to 75 years in Argentina, largely correlated with the human development index (a measure of national well-being) of individual LMICs. Notably, acute heart failure accounted for 2.2% of all hospital admissions in the LMICs for which data were available. Hypertension was the main cause of heart failure in Africa and the Americas, whereas ischemic heart disease was the main cause in all other regions. More than two-thirds of patients were prescribed diuretics for heart failure, whereas only 57% of patients were treated with angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors, only 34% were treated with beta-blockers, and only 32% were treated with mineralocorticoid receptor antagonists, the three treatments currently recommended in guidelines for managing heart failure. Finally, on average, patients admitted to hospital for heart failure in LMICs spent ten days in hospital, and 8.3% of them died in hospital (compared to 6.7% and 4% of similar patients across Europe and the US, respectively).
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings show that the presentation, causes, management, and outcomes of heart failure vary substantially across LMICs. Importantly, however, these findings reveal that heart failure is already a major burden in LMICs and that the use of recommended medications for heart failure is currently suboptimal in these countries. Because the studies included in this systematic review and meta-analysis set out to answer different research questions and used different methods to diagnose heart failure, the estimates of the burden of heart failure in LMICs provided here may not be completely accurate. Moreover, because the data were derived mainly from urban tertiary referral hospitals, these findings may not reflect the broader picture of heart failure in the community in LMICs. However, although additional studies are needed to completely assess the burden of heart failure in LMICs, the present findings nevertheless highlight the need to implement better strategies for the management of heart failure in LMICs.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001699.
This study is further discussed in a PLOS Medicine Perspective by Druin Burch
The US National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute provides information for patients about heart failure
The UK National Health Service Choices website provides information about all aspects of heart failure
The American Heart Association, a not-for-profit organization, also provides detailed information about heart failure for patients and their carers
The British Heart Foundation, a not-for-profit organization, provides additional information about heart failure, including a personal story about heart failure; further personal stories about heart failure are provided by the not-for-profit organization Healthtalkonline
Heart Failure Matters provides practical information about heart failure for patients, families, and caregivers in several languages; its website includes an animated journey through heart failure and several personal stories about the condition
MedlinePlus provides links to further resources about heart failure (in English and Spanish)
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001699
PMCID: PMC4130667  PMID: 25117081
25.  Community Mobilization in Mumbai Slums to Improve Perinatal Care and Outcomes: A Cluster Randomized Controlled Trial 
PLoS Medicine  2012;9(7):e1001257.
David Osrin and colleagues report findings from a cluster-randomized trial conducted in Mumbai slums; the trial aimed to evaluate whether facilitator-supported women's groups could improve perinatal outcomes.
Introduction
Improving maternal and newborn health in low-income settings requires both health service and community action. Previous community initiatives have been predominantly rural, but India is urbanizing. While working to improve health service quality, we tested an intervention in which urban slum-dweller women's groups worked to improve local perinatal health.
Methods and Findings
A cluster randomized controlled trial in 24 intervention and 24 control settlements covered a population of 283,000. In each intervention cluster, a facilitator supported women's groups through an action learning cycle in which they discussed perinatal experiences, improved their knowledge, and took local action. We monitored births, stillbirths, and neonatal deaths, and interviewed mothers at 6 weeks postpartum. The primary outcomes described perinatal care, maternal morbidity, and extended perinatal mortality. The analysis included 18,197 births over 3 years from 2006 to 2009. We found no differences between trial arms in uptake of antenatal care, reported work, rest, and diet in later pregnancy, institutional delivery, early and exclusive breastfeeding, or care-seeking. The stillbirth rate was non-significantly lower in the intervention arm (odds ratio 0.86, 95% CI 0.60–1.22), and the neonatal mortality rate higher (1.48, 1.06–2.08). The extended perinatal mortality rate did not differ between arms (1.19, 0.90–1.57). We have no evidence that these differences could be explained by the intervention.
Conclusions
Facilitating urban community groups was feasible, and there was evidence of behaviour change, but we did not see population-level effects on health care or mortality. In cities with multiple sources of health care, but inequitable access to services, community mobilization should be integrated with attempts to deliver services for the poorest and most vulnerable, and with initiatives to improve quality of care in both public and private sectors.
Trial registration
Current Controlled Trials ISRCTN96256793
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Substantial progress is being made to reduce global child mortality (deaths of children before the age of 5 years) and maternal mortality (deaths among women because of complications of pregnancy and childbirth)—two of the Millennium Development Goals agreed by world leaders in 2000 to end extreme poverty. Even so, worldwide, in 2010, 7.6 million children died before their fifth birthday and there were nearly 360,000 maternal deaths. Almost all child and maternal deaths occur in developing countries—a fifth of under-five deaths and more than a quarter of neonatal deaths (deaths during the first month of life, which account for two-fifths of all child deaths) occur in India alone. Moreover, most child and maternal deaths are caused by avoidable conditions. Specifically, the major causes of neonatal death—complications of preterm delivery, breathing problems during or after delivery, and infections of the blood (sepsis) and lungs (pneumonia)—and of maternal deaths—hemorrhage (abnormal bleeding), sepsis, unsafe abortion, obstructed labor, and hypertensive diseases of pregnancy—could all be largely prevented by improved access to reproductive health services and skilled health care workers.
Why Was This Study Done?
Experts believe that improvements to maternal and newborn health in low-income settings require both health service strengthening and community action. That is, the demand for better services, driven by improved knowledge about maternal and newborn health (perinatal issues), has to be increased in parallel with the supply of those services. To date, community mobilization around perinatal issues has largely been undertaken in rural settings but populations in developing countries are becoming increasingly urban. In India, for example, 30% of the population now lives in cities. In this cluster randomized controlled trial (a study in which groups of people are randomly assigned to receive alternative interventions and the outcomes in the differently treated “clusters” are compared), City Initiative for Newborn Health (CINH) researchers investigate the effect of an intervention designed to help women's groups in the slums of Mumbai work towards improving local perinatal health. The CINH aims to improve maternal and newborn health in slum communities by improving public health care provision and by working with community members to improve maternal and newborn care practices and care-seeking behaviors.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers enrolled 48 Mumbai slum communities of at least 1,000 households into their trial. In each of the 24 intervention clusters, a facilitator supported local women's groups through a 36-meeting learning cycle during which group members discussed their perinatal experiences, improved their knowledge, and took action. To measure the effect of the intervention, the researchers monitored births, stillbirths, and neonatal deaths in all the clusters and interviewed mothers 6 weeks after delivery. During the 3-year trial, there were 18,197 births in the participating settlements. The women in the intervention clusters were enthusiastic about acquiring new knowledge and made substantial efforts to reach out to other women but were less successful in undertaking collective action such as negotiations with civic authorities for more amenities. There were no differences between the intervention and control communities in the uptake of antenatal care, reported work, rest, and diet in late pregnancy, institutional delivery, or in breast feeding and care-seeking behavior. Finally, the combined rate of stillbirths and neonatal deaths (the extended perinatal mortality rate) was the same in both arms of the trial, as was maternal mortality.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings indicate that it is possible to facilitate the discussion of perinatal health care by urban women's groups in the challenging conditions that exist in the slums of Mumbai. However, they fail to show any measureable effect of community mobilization through the facilitation of women's groups on perinatal health at the population level. The researchers acknowledge that more intensive community activities that target the poorest, most vulnerable slum dwellers might produce measurable effects on perinatal mortality, and they conclude that, in cities with multiple sources of health care and inequitable access to services, it remains important to integrate community mobilization with attempts to deliver services to the poorest and most vulnerable, and with initiatives to improve the quality of health care in both the public and private sector.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001257.
The United Nations Childrens Fund (UNICEF) works for children's rights, survival, development, and protection around the world; it provides information on the reduction of child mortality (Millennium Development Goal 4); its Childinfo website provides information about all the Millennium Development Goals and detailed statistics about on child survival and health, newborn care, and maternal health (some information in several languages)
The World Health Organization also has information about Millennium Development Goal 4 and Millennium Development Goal 5, the reduction of maternal mortality, provides information on newborn infants, and provides estimates of child mortality rates (some information in several languages)
Further information about the Millennium Development Goals is available
Information on the City Initiative for Newborn Health and its partners and a detailed description of its trial of community mobilization in Mumbai slums to improve care during pregnancy, delivery, postnatally and for the newborn are available
Further information about the Society for Nutrition, Education and Health Action (SNEHA) is available
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001257
PMCID: PMC3389036  PMID: 22802737

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