Low birth weight (LBW) is a significant public health concern given its association with early-life mortality and other adverse health consequences that can impact the entire life-cycle. In many countries, accurate estimates of LBW prevalence are lacking due to inaccuracies in collection and gaps in available data. Our study aimed to determine LBW prevalence among facility-born infants in selected areas of Kenya and Tanzania, and to assess whether the introduction of an intervention to improve the accuracy of birth-weight measurement would result in a meaningfully different estimate of LBW prevalence than current practice.
We carried out a historically-controlled intervention study in 22 health facilities in Kenya and three health facilities in Tanzania. The intervention included: provision of high-quality digital scales, training of nursing staff on accurate birth weight measurement, recording and scale calibration practices, and quality maintenance support that consisted of enhanced supervision and feedback (prospective arm). The historically-controlled data were birth weights from the same facilities recorded in maternity registers for the same calendar months from the previous year measured using routine practices and manual scales.
Between October 2019 and February 2020, we prospectively collected birth weights from 8,441 newborns in Kenya and 4,294 in Tanzania. Historical data were available from 9,318 newborns in Kenya and 12,007 in Tanzania. In the prospective sample, the prevalence of LBW was 12.6% (95% confidence intervals [CI]: 10.9%-14.4%) in Kenya and 18.2% (12.2%-24.2%) in Tanzania. In the historical sample, the corresponding prevalence estimates were 7.8% (6.5%-9.2%) and 10.0% (8.6%-11.4%). Compared to the retrospective sample, the LBW prevalence in the prospective sample was 4.8%-points (3.2%-6.4%) higher in Kenya and 8.2%-points (2.3%-14.0%) higher in Tanzania, corresponding to a risk ratio of 1.61 (1.38–1.88) in Kenya and 1.81 (1.30–2.52) in Tanzania.
Routine birth weight records under-estimate the risk of LBW among facility born infants in Kenya and Tanzania. The quality of birth-weight data can be improved by a simple intervention consisting of provision of digital scales and supportive training.