Effect of the mHealth-Supported Healthy Future Programme Delivered by Community Health Workers on Maternal and Child Health in Rural China: Study Protocol for a Cluster Randomised Controlled Trial

Introduction Millions of young rural children in China still suffer from poor health and malnutrition, partly due to a lack of knowledge about optimal perinatal and child care among rural mothers and caregivers. Meanwhile, there is an urgent need to improve maternal mental health in rural communities. Comprehensive home visiting programmes delivered by community health workers (CHWs) can bridge the caregiver knowledge gap and improve child health and maternal well-being in low-resource settings, but the effectiveness of this approach is unknown in rural China. Additionally, grandmothers play important roles in child care and family decision-making in rural China, suggesting the importance of engaging multiple caregivers in interventions. The Healthy Future programme seeks to improve child health and maternal well-being by developing a staged-based curriculum that CHWs deliver to mothers and caregivers of young children through home visits with the assistance of a tablet-based mHealth system. This protocol describes the design and evaluation plan for this programme.

Methods and analysis We designed a cluster-randomised controlled trial among 119 rural townships in four nationally designated poverty counties in Southwestern China. We will compare the outcomes between three arms: one standard arm with only primary caregivers participating in the intervention, one encouragement arm engaging primary and secondary caregivers and one control arm with no intervention. Families with pregnant women or infants under 6 months of age are invited to enrol in the 12-month study. Primary outcomes include children’s haemoglobin levels, exclusive breastfeeding rates and dietary diversity in complementary feeding. Secondary outcomes include a combination of health, behavioural and intermediate outcomes.