Efforts to Alter the Trajectory of Neonatal Mortality in Malawi: Evaluating Relative Effects of Access to Maternal Care Services and Birth History Risk Factors
The neonatal mortality rate (NMR) in Malawi has remained stagnant at around 27 per 1000 live births over the last 15 years, despite an increase in the uptake of targeted health care interventions. We used the nationally representative 2015/16 Demographic Health Survey data set to evaluate the effect of two types of maternal exposures, namely, lack of access to maternal or intra-partum care services and birth history factors, on the risk of neonatal mortality.
A causal inference approach was used to estimate a population attributable risk parameter for each exposure, adjusting for co-exposures and household, maternal and child-specific covariates. The maternal exposures evaluated were unmet family planning needs, less than 4+ antenatal care visits, lack of institutional delivery or skilled birth attendance, having prior neonatal mortality, short (8-24 months) birth interval preceding the index birth, first pregnancy, and two or more pregnancy outcomes within the preceding five years of the survey interview.
We included 9553 women and their most recent live birth within 3 years of the survey. The sample's overall neonatal mortality rate was 18.5 per 1000 live births. The adjusted population attributable risk for first pregnancies was 3.9/1000 (P < 0.001), while non-institutional deliveries and the shortest preceding birth interval (8-24 months) each had an attributable risk of 1.3/1000 (Ps = 0.01). Having 2 or more pregnancy outcomes within the last 5 years had an attributable risk of 3/1000 (P = 0.006). Attending less than 4 ANC visits had, a relatively large attributable risk (2.1/1,000), and it was not statistically significant at alpha level 0.05.
Our analysis addresses the gap in the literature on evaluating the effect of these exposures on neonatal mortality in Malawi. It also helps inform programs and current efforts such as the Every Newborn Action 2020 Plan. Increasing access to maternal care interventions has an important role to play in changing the trajectory of neonatal mortality, and women who are at an increased risk may not be receiving adequate care. Recent studies indicate an urgent need to assess gaps in service readiness and quality of care at the antenatal and obstetric care facilities.