Measuring coverage in MNCH: tracking progress in health for women and children using DHS and MICS household surveys

PLoS Med. 2013;10(5):e1001391. doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1001391. Epub 2013 May 7.


Household surveys are the primary data source of coverage indicators for children and women for most developing countries. Most of this information is generated by two global household survey programmes-the USAID-supported Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) and the UNICEF-supported Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys (MICS). In this review, we provide an overview of these two programmes, which cover a wide range of child and maternal health topics and provide estimates of many Millennium Development Goal indicators, as well as estimates of the indicators for the Countdown to 2015 initiative and the Commission on Information and Accountability for Women's and Children's Health. MICS and DHS collaborate closely and work through interagency processes to ensure that survey tools are harmonized and comparable as far as possible, but we highlight differences between DHS and MICS in the population covered and the reference periods used to measure coverage. These differences need to be considered when comparing estimates of reproductive, maternal, newborn, and child health indicators across countries and over time and we discuss the implications of these differences for coverage measurement. Finally, we discuss the need for survey planners and consumers of survey results to understand the strengths, limitations, and constraints of coverage measurements generated through household surveys, and address some technical issues surrounding sampling and quality control. We conclude that, although much effort has been made to improve coverage measurement in household surveys, continuing efforts are needed, including further research to improve and refine survey methods and analytical techniques.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Child Health Services / trends*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Developing Countries*
  • Family Characteristics
  • Female
  • Global Health
  • Health Care Surveys / trends*
  • Health Services Accessibility / trends
  • Health Services Research / methods
  • Health Services Research / trends*
  • Healthcare Disparities / trends*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Maternal Health Services / trends*
  • Program Evaluation
  • Research Design
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Time Factors

Grant support

This work was conducted under the auspices of the Child Health Epidemiology Reference Group (CHERG) for WHO and UNICEF, with financial support from The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation through their grant to the US Fund for UNICEF. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.