Exploring strategies for integrating breastfeeding peer supporters in public hospitals in Kenya

Lead Research Organisation: ARCH - KWTRP
Department Name: Research


Acute malnutrition among infants aged under 6 months is a major public health problem. Recent reports indicate that globally, 8.5 million infants under 6 months suffer from moderate or severe acute malnutrition. Malnourished infants are significantly more likely to be hospitalized and die from treatable infectious diseases than non-malnourished infants. Studies have shown that the majority of these infants (up to 90%) are not exclusively breastfed, even though evidence suggests that exclusive breastfeeding is particularly important for recovery and survival among this group. To improve the nutritional status of hospitalized malnourished infants, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends the re-establishment of exclusive breastfeeding. However, challenges such as shortages of appropriately trained health workers and lack of information on "how" exclusive breastfeeding can most effectively be re-established have hampered the effective implementation of these recommendations in many low-income settings, including Kenya. In Kenya, as elsewhere in sub-Saharan Africa, breastfeeding lay peer supporters (mothers from the local community trained in breastfeeding assistance) are used to promote and support exclusive breastfeeding among mothers of healthy infants in their communities. We are currently undertaking a study (IBAMI) in a hospital in Kenya investigating the maintenance of exclusive breastfeeding amongst infants recovering from acute malnutrition and infection after they have been discharged from hospital. We have introduced breastfeeding peer supporters in the hospital to help the health workers implement the WHO guidelines. With the support of study staff and funding, peer supporters have become a central part of the inpatient treatment management team undertaking tasks integral to the breastfeeding treatment plan. Our experiences from the IBAMI study suggest that breastfeeding lay peer supporters might be an effective strategy for enhancing the implementation of the WHO guidelines. However, the supportive financial and management conditions provided by the IBAMI study are unlikely to be repeated in resource constrained hospital settings in Kenya and routine implementation would involve introducing a new low skilled, as yet unrecognised cadre into complex, multi-professional hospital environments. To understand when, where and how breastfeeding peer supporters might be integrated into the routine treatment of inpatient malnourished infants, we propose to undertake a pilot study investigating the health system factors that are likely to enhance or constrain the use of breastfeeding peer supporters in the implementation the WHO guidelines for nutrition rehabilitation of inpatient infants under routine conditions in two public hospitals in Kenya.
To gauge policy level interest in the approach, we will identify and engage with key policy makers at national and county levels in Kenya; determine their views on employing lay peer supporters in a hospital setting and discuss potential barriers and facilitators to implementation. To assess the feasibility of using breastfeeding peer supporters, we will collaborate with the Kilifi County Ministry of Health (MoH), to identify two hospitals and in each we will work with the hospital management team, frontline health workers, UNICEF and National MoH to develop and agree on a strategy for the implementation of a breastfeeding peer supporters' intervention. During strategy implementation, quarterly meetings to review progress and identify factors enhancing or constraining the integration process will be held. After 12 months, we will estimate the costs of implementing the strategy and hold review meetings and interviews in each of the two hospital to assess perceptions of its feasibility, acceptability and sustainability. The findings from this study will generate new knowledge to improve the hospital management and treatment of malnourished infants under 6 months.

Technical Summary

Globally, 8.5 million infants under 6 months suffer from moderate or severe acute malnutrition. The outcomes for malnourished infants admitted to hospital are particularly poor. WHO guidelines for the nutritional rehabilitation of such infants recommend the re-establishment of exclusive breastfeeding. However, in many low resource settings health system challenges, in particular deficits in human resources for health, impede their effective implementation. In Kenya, an ongoing pilot study exploring the role of relactation in the nutritional recovery of hospitalised malnourished sick infants (IBAMI study) (MRC grant no MR/N021940/1) is using lay peer supporters (PS) to facilitate the implementation of the WHO guidelines. Under the trial conditions (costs born by the study and supervision facilitated by the research team) the PS have been well received within the hospital and their activities are contributing to effective guideline implementation. However, such supportive conditions are unlikely to be repeated in routine settings and breastfeeding PS is not a recognised cadre within the Kenyan hospital system. This descriptive study is designed to explore the health system factors likely to enhance or constrain the use of PS as part of hospital nutrition rehabilitation teams in Kenyan hospitals. We will use stakeholder mapping and analysis to identify key stakeholders involved in infant care policies and practice at national and country levels, and engage them in PS strategy discussion and project planning. A participatory approach will be used to collect empirical data on the development, implementation and assessment of outcomes of a PS breastfeeding strategy in two hospitals in Kilifi, County Kenya. The results will be discussed and reviewed with county and national level stakeholders at an end of project workshop. The outcomes of these discussions will be used to inform potential strategies for integrating breastfeeding PS into inpatient infant care.

Planned Impact

The process and outcomes of the proposed research have the potential to benefit several groups in a variety of ways.

International: WHO and Academics
The World Health Organization (WHO) has developed guidelines for the nutritional rehabilitation of hospitalized malnourished infants that focus on the re-establishment of exclusive breastfeeding. These guidelines are rarely fully implemented in low resource settings, often due to human resource (HR) constraints. In collaboration with researchers from the Kemri-Wellcome Trust Research Programme and UNICEF Kenya, hospitals in this study will develop and implement strategies to address HR constrains that incorporate lay breastfeeding peer supporters into hospital nutritional rehabilitation teams. The evidence generated will be shared with WHO to help inform potential strategies for more effective operationalization of the guidelines. The findings will also contribute new knowledge to international health policy and systems research debates on how, when and where lay peer supports might be incorporated into treatment management teams for inpatient infant care and for the management of other conditions.

National and county policy makers and stakeholders
The information generated through this project, on approaches for integrating lay peer supporters into treatment management teams in routine hospital settings, will provide county and national level policy makers in Kenya with evidence to inform discussions on the potential of task shifting in hospitals as a strategy for addressing human resource constraints. In particular, for nutritional rehabilitation management and other areas where the implementation of current treatment guidelines may benefit from formal task shifting such as the management of diabetes, high blood pressure, overweight and obesity, mental health and neurocognitive disorders.

Hospital management and practitioners
In the two hospitals in which the study will take place the hospital management team and health workers will benefits in several ways. Firstly, improved collection and management of records on inpatient infant nutritional rehabilitation will: i) provide evidence on the outcomes of current nutritional rehabilitation practices; and ii) demonstrate how routine data can be used to help identify and improve practice. Secondly, the process of intervention implementation will provide experience of support supervision practices that utilize routine data and involve monitoring and feedback that have the potential to be incorporated more broadly to improve hospital management practices. Thirdly, the study will assist the hospitals in implementing the WHO treatment guidelines for inpatient infant rehabilitation and will provide data on the potential costs. Finally, the experience of integrating lay breastfeeding supporters into hospital nutritional rehabilitation teams will provide the hospital management team with empirical evidence on when and how such a strategy might be employed for the management of other conditions.
Recipients: Infants living in Kenya and the region
During the project the malnourished infants in the study hospitals will benefit directly from the increased emphasis on their nutritional rehabilitation, particularly the re-establishment of breastfeeding. More broadly, the data from this project will be used to provide evidence of strategies to nutritional rehabilitation that will enhance the survival chances of infants admitted to hospital suffering from malnutrition in Kenya and potential more widely in the East Africa region.
Description Wellcome Trust Intermediate Fellowship
Amount £800,000 (GBP)
Funding ID 221997/Z/20/Z 
Organisation Kenyan Institute for Medical Research (KEMRI) 
Sector Public
Country Kenya
Start 06/2021 
End 06/2026
Title Breastfeeding and infants under 6 months 
Description Funding for IBAMI study enabled drafting and piloting of case report forms for assessing breastfeeding and other aspects of health among sick infants under 6 months. These tools have now been adopted by the CHAIN network and are currently being applied in the 8 settings in 5 countries. 
Type Of Material Physiological assessment or outcome measure 
Year Produced 2016 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact The tools we are currently using to assess breastfeeding in the under 6 months slightly differ from the currently recommended tools which would be limiting to this study population. This has forced practitioners to re-think the adoption of tools that may not have been piloted within their setting and study population. 
Description Ministry of Health (Kwale County) 
Organisation Ministry of Health, Kenya
Country Kenya 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Training of health care workers to manage malnutrition among infants aged below 6 months
Collaborator Contribution Providing support for the SIBs study, recruiting and integrating breastfeeding peer supporters into their health system
Impact Health systems are able to employ and manage breastfeeding peer supporters to support breastfeeding interventions within the hospital setting. Capacity building The study team was able to support research projects for 2 students; one post-graduate diploma in research methods (PGD) and one masters students in International Health and Tropical Medicine (IHTM) both of whom have since graduated Publications Two manuscripts currently under preparation for submission in a peer reviewed journal a) A scoping review of Breastfeeding peer support models applied in hospital settings b) Understanding nutritional rehabilitation management in two Kenyan public hospitals
Start Year 2018
Description Engaging local health service providers 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Main purpose of meeting with the nurses and clinicians was to make them aware of the study's aims and objectives and request for their support in study activities. The study's engagement with this platform is continuous as the study is being undertaken in the hospital pediatric ward.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016,2018
Description MSF Conference_Sweden 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact I was invited to give a presentation during the 2019 MSF pediatric day in Sweden. I presented on the general topic of malnutrition among infants aged below 6 months. During a follow-on discussion an interest in the related subject was expressed and a request to work together towards a concept note for research with MSF
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
Description WHO Wasting consultative meeting 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The WHO Department of Nutrition for Health and Development, in collaboration with the Department of Maternal, Newborn, Child and Adolescent Health will convene a technical consultation meeting in collaboration with UN partners in December 2019. The participants will include approximately 20-25 experts in the field of prevention and treatment of wasting and child health. The purpose of this meeting is to build consensus on the technical framing of wasting which will be the basis for the guideline scoping of wasting in infants and children, for supporting advocacy and messaging around wasting and under nutrition, as well as for discussing how to detect those at risk of mortality and
morbidity and what indicators are needed.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
Description WaSt Technical Working Group 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact I was invited to take part in a consultative meeting on Concurrent Wasting and Stunting (WaSt) a current project of the Emergency Nutrition Network. The main objectives of the meeting were;
To take stock of the WaSt TIG mortality analysis, reflecting on key outcomes of the analysis
To jointly consider and discuss the mortality analysis in light of other analyses
To discuss the implications of the analysis for programmes, policies and research
To agree on the next steps for this body of work (including additional data, further analysis, journal, timing and authorship)

A follow-on full TIG meeting is planned for June to hear of progress and discuss way froward for the project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019