Background: Annually over 520,000 newborns die from neonatal sepsis, and 60,000 more from tetanus. Estimates of the effect of clean birth and postnatal care practices are required for evidence-based program planning.
Objective: To review the evidence for clean birth and postnatal care practices and estimate the effect on neonatal mortality from sepsis and tetanus for the Lives Saved Tool (LiST).
Methods: We conducted a systematic review of multiple databases. Data were abstracted into standard tables and assessed by GRADE criteria. Where appropriate, meta-analyses were undertaken. For interventions with low quality evidence but a strong GRADE recommendation, a Delphi process was conducted.
Results: Low quality evidence supports a reduction in all-cause neonatal mortality (19% (95% c.i. 1–34%)), cord infection (30% (95% c.i. 20–39%)) and neonatal tetanus (49% (95% c.i. 35–62%)) with birth attendant handwashing. Very low quality evidence supports a reduction in neonatal tetanus mortality with a clean birth surface (93% (95% c.i. 77-100%)) and no relationship between a clean perineum and tetanus. Low quality evidence supports a reduction of neonatal tetanus with facility birth (68% (95% c.i. 47-88%). No relationship was found between birth place and cord infections or sepsis mortality. For postnatal clean practices, all-cause mortality is reduced with chlorhexidine cord applications in the first 24 hours of life (34% (95% c.i. 5–54%, moderate quality evidence) and antimicrobial cord applications (63% (95% c.i. 41–86%, low quality evidence). One study of postnatal maternal handwashing reported reductions in all-cause mortality (44% (95% c.i. 18–62%)) and cord infection ((24% (95% c.i. 5-40%)).
Given the low quality of evidence, a Delphi expert opinion process was undertaken. Thirty experts reached consensus regarding reduction of neonatal sepsis deaths by clean birth practices at home (15% (IQR 10–20)) or in a facility (27% IQR 24–36)), and by clean postnatal care practices (40% (IQR 25–50)). The panel estimated that neonatal tetanus mortality was reduced by clean birth practices at home (30% (IQR(20–30)), or in a facility (38% (IQR 34–40)), and by clean postnatal care practices (40% (IQR 30–50)).
Conclusion: According to expert opinion, clean birth and particularly postnatal care practices are effective in reducing neonatal mortality from sepsis and tetanus. Further research is required regarding optimal implementation strategies.