Journal Article

The effect of community nurses and health volunteers on child mortality: The Navrongo Community Health and Family Planning Project

Despite effective treatments and preventive measures for the major causes of child illness and death in less wealthy nations, child mortality remains high in resource-poor settings due in part to ineffective health service delivery models.

The Navrongo Community Health and Family Planning Project is a longitudinal community trial of alternative organizational strategies for health service delivery in a rural, impoverished area of Ghana. In one area, nurses are placed in communities with doorstep visitation and service responsibilities. A second area includes training of a local health volunteer and community involvement in health delivery. A third area combines both strategies. Under-five mortality rates were calculated and Poisson regression was used to adjust for potential confounding characteristics.

In areas with village-based community nurse services, under-five child mortality fell by 14% during five years of program implementation compared with before the intervention, with reductions in infant (5%), early child (18%), and late child (39%) mortality. The volunteer intervention was associated with a 14% increase in mortality, primarily driven by a 135% increase in early child mortality. Areas with both nurses and volunteers saw an 8% increase, with small increases in all age groups. Mortality in a comparison area with standard Ministry of Health services fell by 4% during the same time period.

These results suggest that convenient, accessible professional nursing care can reduce child mortality in impoverished African settings. However, they do not demonstrate a beneficial effect of community volunteers and suggest a possible negative impact on children’s survival.