Conducting a baseline survey is among the first major activities before introducing an intervention. It helps to develop an understanding of the situation before changes are made and helps with quantifying potential effects of the intervention. As part of cluster-randomized controlled trial to determine the effectiveness of maternity waiting areas (MWAs) and local leader training on improving skilled birth attendance in Jimma Zone Ethiopia, we conducted a baseline survey between October 2016 and January 2017.
Preparation for this began with designing the survey tool using existing, standardized questionnaires as well as crafting new questions relevant for the trial. The next key task was to create a sampling frame from which a random selection of households would be chosen for interviews. Routine, community-based data on households and pregnant women required significant updating and verification. Working closely with community-based health extension workers (HEWs) as well as local leaders – the Women and Men’s Development Army – existing data was collated, reviewed and gaps identified. Members of the Jimma based research team then joined hands with HEWs and various local leaders to update records of pregnant women in a mini-census exercise (although the process was far from a mini one!). This was also an opportunity to work out survey logistics in terms of transport, distances, terrain and the community’s availability.
Finally, in September 2017 research team members from Jimma University, the Jimma Zonal Health Department and University of Ottawa congregated in Jimma town. Over the month prior to the survey, both qualitative and quantitative data collectors underwent intensive training and survey tools were piloted and finalized.
It was a moment of triumph for all when the first set of data collectors piled into the vehicles on their first day of data collection. Interviewers were divided up into three teams under the supervision of doctoral students from Jimma University. Visits to households were done in pairs so that women could interview women and men could interview husbands.
Interviewers were in the field from around 9am to quite late in the evening and due to the random nature of household selection often walked several kilometres to get to homes. Household surveys were programmed onto tablets using Open Data Kit enabling surveyors to submit data to the server using mobile hotspots created on their phones or when they returned to town centres with Wifi. This allowed monitoring of the data and quality checks while teams were still in the field.