Should all pregnant women take calcium supplements in Nepal? GRADE evidence to policy assessment
The WHO recommends oral calcium supplementation (1.5–2.0 g) in pregnant women to reduce the risk of pre-eclampsia living in areas with low dietary calcium intake. Although maternal mortality is high in Nepal and eclampsia causes at least 20% of maternal deaths, implementing WHO recommendations would be a major undertaking.
This review aimed to assess whether the current evidence supports the blanket supplementation of calcium to prevent pre-eclampsia among pregnant women in Nepal.
We used a structured approach to appraise the evidence for calcium supplementation in Nepal. We identified what may influence the impact of calcium supplementation in Nepal and conducted a situation analysis in the country covering maternal mortality, pre-eclampsia occurrence, and existing government policy provisions for supplementation. We also consulted with experts and government officials to explore their perspectives and experience on supplementation. We then used AMSTAR (A MeaSurement Tool to Assess Systematic Reviews) to appraise the Cochrane Systematic Review of calcium supplementation. Finally, we used these data in a GRADE (Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development and Evaluation)–Evidence to Decision framework to reach a policy recommendation.
Our assessment of the Cochrane Review showed that the recommendation made by the WHO is based on weak evidence and trial findings that are not consistent between studies. The Cochrane Review found low certainty of the evidence for benefit (reduction in pre-eclampsia and maternal mortality). Conversely, there is a high certainty of the evidence of undesirable effects (HELLP [haemolysis, elevated liver enzymes and low platelets] syndrome) although this is uncommon. The likely absolute reduction in maternal deaths projected to Nepal was estimated to be low, while the implementation costs were high. Stakeholders also raised several concerns regarding feasibility, acceptability, appropriate dosing, and risk communication.
This review concludes that the blanket supplementation of calcium cannot be recommended in Nepal. A better approach may be to identify high-risk pregnant women and manage their antenatal visits and delivery to prevent mortality from pre-eclampsia.