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Paediatr Perinat Epidemiol. 1998 Oct;12 Suppl 2:116-41.

The practice of antenatal care: comparing four study sites in different parts of the world participating in the WHO Antenatal Care Randomised Controlled Trial.

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  • 1UNDP/UNFPA/WHO/World Bank Special Programme of Research, Development and Research Training in Human Reproduction, World Health Organisation, Geneva, Switzerland.


In the preparation of a randomised controlled trial to evaluate a new programme of antenatal care (ANC) in different parts of the world, we conducted a baseline survey of the ANC procedures in all 53 clinics participating in the trial. There were two components of this survey: (1) description of clinic characteristics and services offered: the staff of each clinic was interviewed and direct observation was made by field supervisors, and (2) the actual use of services by pregnant women attending these clinics: we reviewed a random sample of 2913 clinical histories. The clinical units surveyed were offering most of the activities, screening, laboratory tests and interventions recommended as effective according to the Cochrane Pregnancy and Childbirth Database (PCD), although some of these were not available in some sites. On the other hand, some tests and interventions that are considered not effective according to these criteria are reportedly offered. There was a difference across sites in the availability and offer to low-risk women of vaginal examination, evaluation of pelvic size, dental examination, external version for breech presentation and formal risk score classification, and a notable difference in the type of principal provider of ANC. There was a large variation in the actual use of screening and laboratory tests and interventions that should be offered to all women according to Cochrane PCD criteria: some of these are simply not available in a site; others are available, but only a fraction of women attending the clinics are receiving them. The participating sites all purport to follow the traditional 'Western' schedule for ANC, but in three sites we found that a high percentage of women initiate their ANC after the first trimester, and therefore do not have either the recommended minimum number of visits during pregnancy or the minimum first trimester evaluation. It is concluded that the variability and heterogeneity of ANC services provided in the four study sites are disturbing to the profession and cast doubts on the rationale of routine ANC.

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