Background: Improving maternal and newborn health requires improvements in the quality of facility-based care. This is challenging to measure: routine data may be unreliable; respondents in population surveys may be unable to accurately report on quality indicators; and facility assessments lack population level denominators. We explored methods for linking access to skilled birth attendance (SBA) from household surveys to data on provision of care from facility surveys with the aim of estimating population level effective coverage reflecting access to quality care.
Methods: We used data from Mayuge District, Uganda. Data from household surveys on access to SBA were linked to health facility assessment census data on readiness to provide basic emergency obstetric and newborn care (BEmONC) in the same district. One individual- and two ecological-linking methods were applied. All methods used household survey reports on where care at birth was accessed. The individual-linking method linked this to data about facility readiness from the specific facility where each woman delivered. The first ecological-linking approach used a district-wide mean estimate of facility readiness. The second used an estimate of facility readiness adjusted by level of health facility accessed. Absolute differences between estimates derived from the different linking methods were calculated, and agreement examined using Lin's concordance correlation coefficient.
Results: A total of 1177 women resident in Mayuge reported a birth during 2012-13. Of these, 664 took place in facilities within Mayuge, and were eligible for linking to the census of the district's 38 facilities. 55% were assisted by a SBA in a facility. Using the individual-linking method, effective coverage of births that took place with an SBA in a facility ready to provide BEmONC was just 10% (95% confidence interval CI 3-17). The absolute difference between the individual- and ecological-level linking method adjusting for facility level was one percentage point (11%), and tests suggested good agreement. The ecological method using the district-wide estimate demonstrated poor agreement.
Conclusions: The proportion of women accessing appropriately equipped facilities for care at birth is far lower than the coverage of facility delivery. To realise the life-saving potential of health services, countries need evidence to inform actions that address gaps in the provision of quality care. Linking household and facility-based information provides a simple but innovative method for estimating quality of care at the population level. These encouraging findings suggest that linking data sets can result in meaningful evidence even when the exact location of care seeking is not known.
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