Objective To assess the effectiveness of strategies incorporating training and support of traditional birth attendants on the outcomes of perinatal, neonatal, and maternal death in developing countries.
Design Systematic review with meta-analysis.
Data sources Medline, Embase, the Allied and Complementary Medicine database, British Nursing Index, Cochrane Library, Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature, BioMed Central, PsycINFO, Latin American and Caribbean Health Sciences Literature database, African Index Medicus, Web of Science, Reproductive Health Library, and Science Citation Index (from inception to April 2011), without language restrictions. Search terms were “birth attend*”, “traditional midwife”, “lay birth attendant”, “dais”, and “comadronas”.
Review methods We selected randomised and non-randomised controlled studies with outcomes of perinatal, neonatal, and maternal mortality. Two independent reviewers undertook data extraction. We pooled relative risks separately for the randomised and non-randomised controlled studies, using a random effects model.
Results We identified six cluster randomised controlled trials (n=138 549) and seven non-randomised controlled studies (n=72 225) that investigated strategies incorporating training and support of traditional birth attendants. All six randomised controlled trials found a reduction in adverse perinatal outcomes; our meta-analysis showed significant reductions in perinatal death (relative risk 0.76, 95% confidence interval 0.64 to 0.88, P<0.001; number needed to treat 35, 24 to 70) and neonatal death (0.79, 0.69 to 0.88, P<0.001; 98, 66 to 170). Meta-analysis of the non-randomised studies also showed a significant reduction in perinatal mortality (0.70, 0.57 to 0.84, p<0.001; 48, 32 to 96) and neonatal mortality (0.61, 0.48 to 0.75, P<0.001; 96, 65 to 168). Six studies reported on maternal mortality and our meta-analysis showed a non-significant reduction (three randomised trials, relative risk 0.79, 0.53 to 1.05, P=0.12; three non-randomised studies, 0.80, 0.44 to 1.15, P=0.26).
Conclusion Perinatal and neonatal deaths are significantly reduced with strategies incorporating training and support of traditional birth attendants.