Among Millennium Development Goals, achieving the fifth goal (MDG-5) of reducing maternal mortality poses the greatest challenge in Sub-Saharan Africa. Ethiopia has one of the highest maternal mortality ratios in the world with unacceptably low maternal health service utilization. The Government of Ethiopia introduced an innovative community-based intervention as a national strategy under the Health Sector Development Program. This new approach, known as the Health Extension Program, aims to improve access to and equity in essential health services through community based Health Extension Workers.
The objective of the study is to assess the role of Health Extension Workers in improving women‚Äôs utilization of antenatal care, delivery at health facility and postnatal care services.
A cross sectional household survey was conducted in early 2012 in two districts of northern and south central parts of Ethiopia. Data were collected from 4949 women who had delivered in the two years preceding the survey. Logistic regression analysis was performed to determine the association between visit by Health Extension Workers during pregnancy and use of maternal health services, controlling for the effect of other confounding factors.
The non‚Äìadjusted analysis showed that antenatal care attendance at least four times during pregnancy was significantly associated with visit by Health Extension Workers [Odds Ratio 3.46(95% CI 3.07,3.91)], whereas health facility delivery (skilled attendance at birth) was not significantly associated with visit by Health Extension Workers during pregnancy [Odds Ratio 0.87(95%CI 0.25,2.96)]. When adjusted for other factors the association of HEWs visit during pregnancy was weaker for antenatal care attendance [Adjusted Odds Ratio: 1.35(95% CI: 1.05, 1.72)] but positively and significantly associated with health facility delivery [Adjusted Odds Ratio 1.96(1.25,3.06)].
In general HEWs visit during pregnancy improved utilization of maternal health services. Health facility delivery is heavily affected by other factors. Meaningful improvement in skilled attendance at birth (health facility delivery) should include addressing other factors on top of visits by HEWs during pregnancy and specific target oriented interventions during visits by HEWs to support skilled attendance at birth.¬†