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Glob Health Sci Pract. 2018 Dec 27;6(4):644-656. doi: 10.9745/GHSP-D-18-00171. Print 2018 Dec 27.

Antenatal Corticosteroids for Women at Risk of Imminent Preterm Birth in 7 sub-Saharan African Countries: A Policy and Implementation Landscape Analysis.

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Independent consultant, Johannesburg, South Africa.
Every Preemie-SCALE/Project Concern International, Washington, DC, USA.
Independent consultant, Portland, OR, USA.
Every Preemie-SCALE/Global Alliance to Prevent Prematurity and Stillbirth (GAPPS), Seattle, WA, USA.



Every year approximately 15 million babies are born prematurely and nearly 1 million die due to preterm birth complications. Evidence shows that antenatal corticosteroids (ACS) can be used to improve preterm birth outcomes in particular clinical settings. We conducted a policy and implementation landscape analysis of ACS use for women at risk of imminent preterm birth in 7 low-income countries.


A study framework and situation analysis tool were developed based on the World Health Organization (WHO) recommendation for ACS use among women at risk of preterm birth. The study was conducted in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Malawi, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, and Uganda. Primary data were collected through key informant interviews. Secondary data were gathered from publicly available sources, a survey of health management information system indicators, and demographic data from the Every Preemie-SCALE country profiles for preterm and low birth weight prevention and care.


All 7 countries are using ACS for women at risk of imminent preterm birth. The majority of countries include language on ACS use in clinical protocols or standard treatment guidelines; however, none include language on accurately measuring gestational age. For 2 of the 5 countries with national standards for ACS use, the upper gestational age limit for ACS use exceeded the WHO recommendation of 34 weeks. There are gaps in national guidance on how to determine if a woman is at risk of imminent preterm birth. Few countries include guidance that indicates ACS is contraindicated in the presence of infection. The majority of countries reported that facilities providing ACS meet comprehensive emergency obstetric and newborn care standards, and all countries reported the availability of some form of special newborn care or neonatal intensive care units at facilities providing ACS.


Countries recognize challenges to access to high-quality maternal and newborn care that fulfill clinical care preconditions required for safe and effective ACS use. Key informants recommended support for clinical guidelines and provider training on ACS use, inclusion of obstetric indications for dexamethasone and betamethasone in national essential medicine lists, collecting and using ACS-related data, and improving the quality of maternal and newborn care, including specialized newborn care.

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