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Health Policy Plan. 2000 Dec;15(4):394-9.

Training traditional birth attendants in clean delivery does not prevent postpartum infection.

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  • 1Centre for Sexual and Reproductive Health, John Snow Inc., London, UK.



To compare the maternal outcome, in terms of postpartum infection, of deliveries conducted by trained traditional birth attendants (TBAs) with those conducted by untrained birth attendants.


The study took place in a rural area of Bangladesh where a local NGO (BRAC) had previously undertaken TBA training. Demographic surveillance in the study site allowed the systematic identification of pregnant women. Pregnant women were recruited continuously over a period of 18 months. Data on the delivery circumstances were collected shortly after delivery while data on postpartum morbidity were collected prospectively at 2 and 6 weeks. All women with complete records who had delivered at home with a non-formal birth attendant (800) were included in the analysis. The intervention investigated was TBA training in hygienic delivery comprising the 'three cleans' (hand-washing with soap, clean cord care, clean surface). The key outcome measure was maternal postpartum genital tract infection diagnosed by a symptom complex of any two out of three symptoms: foul discharge, fever, lower abdominal pain.


Trained TBAs were significantly more likely to practice hygienic delivery than untrained TBAs (45.0 vs. 19.3%, p < 0.0001). However, no significant difference in levels of postpartum infection was found when deliveries by trained TBAs and untrained TBAs were compared. The practice of hygienic delivery itself also had no significant effect on postpartum infection. Logistic regression models confirmed that TBA training and hygienic delivery had no independent effect on postpartum outcome. Other factors, such as pre-existing infection, long labour and insertion of hands into the vagina were found to be highly significant.


Trained TBAs are more likely to practice hygienic delivery than those that are untrained. However, hygienic delivery practices do not prevent postpartum infection in this community. Training TBAs to wash their hands is not an effective strategy to prevent maternal postpartum infection. More rigorous evaluation is needed, not only of TBA training programmes as a whole, but also of the effectiveness of the individual components of the training.

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