What works? Strategies to increase reproductive, maternal and child health in difficult to access mountainous locations: a systematic literature review

PLoS One. 2014 Feb 3;9(2):e87683. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0087683. eCollection 2014.


Background: Geography poses serious challenges to delivery of health services and is a well documented marker of inequity. Maternal, newborn and child health (MNCH) outcomes are poorer in mountainous regions of low and lower-middle income countries due to geographical inaccessibility combined with other barriers: poorer quality services, persistent cultural and traditional practices and lower socioeconomic and educational status. Reaching universal coverage goals will require attention for remote mountain settings. This study aims to identify strategies to address barriers to reproductive MNCH (RMNCH) service utilisation in difficult-to-reach mountainous regions in low and lower-middle income settings worldwide.

Methods: A systematic literature review drawing from MEDLINE, Web of Science, Scopus, Google Scholar, and Eldis. Inclusion was based on; testing an intervention for utilisation of RMNCH services; remote mountain settings of low- and lower-middle income countries; selected study designs. Studies were assessed for quality and analysed to present a narrative review of the key themes.

Findings: From 4,130 articles 34 studies were included, from Afghanistan, Bolivia, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Indonesia, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Nepal, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea and Tajikistan. Strategies fall into four broad categories: improving service delivery through selected, trained and supported community health workers (CHWs) to act alongside formal health workers and the distribution of critical medicines to the home; improving the desirability of existing services by addressing the quality of care, innovative training and supervision of health workers; generating demand by engaging communities; and improving health knowledge for timely care-seeking. Task shifting, strengthened roles of CHWs and volunteers, mobile teams, and inclusive structured planning forums have proved effective.

Conclusions: The review highlights where known evidence-based strategies have increased the utilisation of RMNCH services in low income mountainous areas. While these are known strategies in public health, in such disadvantaged settings additional supports are required to address both supply and demand barriers.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Altitude*
  • Child
  • Child Health Services / standards*
  • Child Health Services / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Health Services Accessibility / standards*
  • Health Services Accessibility / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Maternal Health Services / standards*
  • Maternal Health Services / statistics & numerical data
  • Pregnancy

Grants and funding

The work was supported by funding from the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID), grant ID 47734. The funders website can be accessed at http://www.ausaid.gov.au/Pages/home.aspx. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.