Intervention for improved newborn feeding and survival where HIV is common : Perceptions and effects of a community-based package for maternal and newborn care in a South African township

Abstract: South Africa recently changed infant feeding policy within Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission (PMTCT) of HIV from free formula to recommendation of breastfeeding for all. The country is evaluating the role of Community Health Workers (CHWs) in supporting mothers and newborns.The aim of this thesis is to explore perceptions of household members on the value given to and the social forces behind formula feeding in light of the recent policy change, and to assess the effect of a community-based package of maternal and newborn care delivered by CHWs on HIV-free survival and exclusive and appropriate infant feeding up to 12 weeks of age.Studies were conducted in a high HIV prevalence township. Focus group discussions were performed (grandmothers, fathers and teenage mothers) and in-depth interviews with HIV-positive and HIV-negative mothers. Perceptions of household members on the formula policy change were explored and the value household members place on formula feeding and circumstances that drive it. In a cluster-randomized trial (15 intervention, 15 control clusters) CHWs provided two antenatal and five post-natal home visits to support and promote PMTCT activities.There were misunderstandings by community members on the free formula policy change. Mothers transferred the motherhood role to their mothers while partners provided inadequate financial support, leading to risky mixed feeding. Teenage mothers rarely breastfed their infants due to perceived constraints including embarrassment, sagging breasts and loss of freedom and boyfriends.At 12 weeks of age the intervention had doubled exclusive breastfeeding (EBF) (28% vs. 14%) and slightly increased infant weight and length. No difference was seen between study arms in HIV-free survival. The effect on EBF at12 weeks did not differ with maternal education or wealth levels, but was higher among HIV-negative mothers. Focusing on teenage mothers breastfeeding challenges, involvement of grandmothers and fathers in infant feeding decision-making, improving communication strategies on policy change and breastfeeding to the community and health workers and CHWs home visits supporting PMTCT activities are important for infant feeding and child health.