The majority of infants who die in the neonatal period are born with a low birth weight (LBW, <2500 grams), or prematurely (before 37 weeks). Most deaths among these infants could be prevented with simple, low-cost interventions like kangaroo mother care (KMC) or prevention and early identification of infection. It is difficult, however, to determine birth weight and gestational age in community settings, and therefore necessary to find an appropriate alternative screening tool that can identify LBW and preterm infants.
This cross-sectional study was conducted at a tertiary hospital in Nepal to compare the validity of using three different foot length measurement methods (plastic ruler, measuring tape, and paper footprint) as screening tools for identifying babies with birth weights <2000 grams or infants born preterm (<37 weeks). LBW was defined as less than 2000 grams because of the implication for use of KMC for these infants. Non-parametric receiver operating characteristics (ROC) analysis was completed to determine which measurement method best predicted LBW and preterm birth. For the method that was the best predictor for each outcome (i.e. highest area under the curve), further analyses were completed to determine sensitivity, specificity, likelihood ratios and predictive values of an operational screening cutoff to predict LBW or preterm birth in this setting.
Of the 811 infants included in this study, 30 infants had LBW and 54 were born preterm. The plastic ruler was the measurement method with the highest area under the curve, and thus predictive score for estimating both outcomes, so operational cutoffs were identified based on this method. An operational cutoff of 7.2 cm was identified to screen for infants weighing <2000 grams at birth (sensitivity: 75.9%, specificity: 90.3%), and 7.8 cm was determined as the operational cutoff to identify preterm infants (sensitivity: 76.9%, specificity: 53.9%).
In Nepal, at least in community settings, foot length measurement with a hard ruler may be a valid proxy to identify at-risk infants when birth weight or gestational age is unavailable. Further studies and piloting should be conducted to identify exact cutoffs that can be used within community settings.
2015. Vol. 15, 43