More than 7.5 million children younger than age five living in low- and middle-income countries die every year. The World Health Organization (WHO) developed the integrated management of childhood illness (IMCI) strategy to reduce mortality and morbidity and to improve quality of care by improving the delivery of a variety of curative and preventive medical and behavioral interventions at health facilities, at home, and in the community.
To evaluate the effects of programs that implement the IMCI strategy in terms of death, nutritional status, quality of care, coverage with IMCI deliverables, and satisfaction of beneficiaries.
We searched the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL; 2015, Issue 3), including the Cochrane Effective Practice and Organisation of Care (EPOC) Group Specialised Register; MEDLINE; EMBASE, Ovid; the Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature (CINAHL), EbscoHost; the Latin American Caribbean Health Sciences Literature (LILACS), Virtual Health Library (VHL); the WHO Library & Information Networks for Knowledge Database (WHOLIS); the Science Citation Index and Social Sciences Citation Index, Institute for Scientific Information (ISI) Web of Science; Population Information Online (POPLINE); the WHO International Clinical Trials Registry Platform (WHO ICTRP); and the Global Health, Ovid and Health Management, ProQuest database. We performed searches until 30 June 2015 and supplemented these by searching revised bibliographies and by contacting experts to identify ongoing and unpublished studies.
We sought to include randomised controlled trials (RCTs) and controlled before-after (CBA) studies with at least two intervention and two control sites evaluating the generic IMCI strategy or its adaptation in children younger than age five, and including at minimum efforts to improve health care worker skills for case management. We excluded studies in which IMCI was accompanied by other interventions including conditional cash transfers, food supplementation, and employment. The comparison group received usual health services without provision of IMCI.
Two review authors independently screened searches, selected trials, and extracted, analysed and tabulated data. We used inverse variance for cluster trials and an intracluster co-efficient of 0.01 when adjustment had not been made in the primary study. We used the GRADE (Grades of Recommendation, Assessment, Development and Evaluation Working Group) approach to assess the certainty of evidence.
Two cluster-randomised trials (India and Bangladesh) and two controlled before-after studies (Tanzania and India) met our inclusion criteria. Strategies included training of health care staff, management strengthening of health care systems (all four studies), and home visiting (two studies). The two studies from India included care packages targeting the neonatal period.One trial in Bangladesh estimated that child mortality may be 13% lower with IMCI, but the confidence interval (CI) included no effect (risk ratio (RR) 0.87, 95% CI 0.68 to 1.10; 5090 participants; low-certainty evidence). One CBA study in Tanzania gave almost identical estimates (RR 0.87, 95% CI 0.72 to 1.05; 1932 participants).One trial in India examined infant and neonatal mortality by implementing the integrated management of neonatal and childhood illness (IMNCI) strategy including post-natal home visits. Neonatal and infant mortality may be lower in the IMNCI group compared with the control group (infant mortality hazard ratio (HR) 0.85, 95% CI 0.77 to 0.94; neonatal mortality HR 0.91, 95% CI 0.80 to 1.03; one trial, 60,480 participants; low-certainty evidence).We estimated the effect of IMCI on any mortality measured by combining infant and child mortality in the one IMCI and the one IMNCI trial. Mortality may be reduced by IMCI (RR 0.85, 95% CI 0.78 to 0.93; two trials, 65,570 participants; low-certainty evidence).Two trials (India, Bangladesh) evaluated nutritional status and noted that there may be little or no effect on stunting (RR 0.94, 95% CI 0.84 to 1.06; 5242 participants, two trials; low-certainty evidence) and there is probably little or no effect on wasting (RR 1.04, 95% CI 0.87 to 1.25; two trials, 4288 participants; moderate-certainty evidence).The Tanzania CBA study showed similar results.Investigators measured quality of care by observing prescribing for common illnesses at health facilities (727 observations, two studies; very low-certainty evidence) and by observing prescribing by lay health care workers (1051 observations, three studies; very low-certainty evidence). We could not confirm a consistent effect on prescribing at health facilities or by lay health care workers, as certainty of the evidence was very low.For coverage of IMCI deliverables, we examined vaccine and vitamin A coverage, appropriate care seeking, and exclusive breast feeding. Two trials (India, Bangladesh) estimated vaccine coverage for measles and reported that there is probably little or no effect on measles vaccine coverage (RR 0.92, 95% CI 0.80 to 1.05; two trials, 4895 participants; moderate-certainty evidence), with similar effects seen in the Tanzania CBA study. Two studies measured the third dose of diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus vaccine; and two measured vitamin A coverage, all providing little or no evidence of increased coverage with IMCI.Four studies (2 from India, and 1 each from Tanzania and Bangladesh) reported appropriate care seeking and derived information from careful questioning of mothers about recent illness. Some studies on effects of IMCI may report better care seeking behavior, but others do not report this.All four studies recorded maternal responses on exclusive breast feeding. They provided mixed results and very low-certainty evidence. Therefore, we do not know whether IMCI impacts exclusive breast feeding.No studies reported on the satisfaction of mothers and service users.
The mix of interventions examined in research studies evaluating the IMCI strategy varies, and some studies include specific inputs to improve neonatal health. Most studies were conducted in South Asia. Implementing the integrated management of childhood illness strategy may reduce child mortality, and packages that include interventions for the neonatal period may reduce infant mortality. IMCI may have little or no effect on nutritional status and probably has little or no effect on vaccine coverage. Maternal care seeking behavior may be more appropriate with IMCI, but study results have been mixed, providing evidence of very low certainty about whether IMCI has effects on adherence to exclusive breast feeding.