Background: Emergency contraceptive pills (ECP) are one of the 13 essential commodities addressed by the UN Commission on Life-Saving Commodities for Women and Children. Although ECP have been available for 20 years, a number of barriers still limit women's access ECP in low and middle-income countries (LMIC). The workforce who prescribe or dispense ECP are diverse reflecting the varied contexts where ECP are available across the health, commercial and justice sectors and in the community. No reviews currently exist that examine the roles and experiences of the workforce that provide ECP in LMIC.
Method: We present a narrative synthesis of research to: identify provider factors that facilitate and constraint access to ECP; assess the effectiveness of associated interventions and; explore associated health system issues in LMIC. A search of bibliographic databases, meta-indexes and websites was undertaken to retrieve peer reviewed and grey literature. Literature was screened and identified documents examined to appraise quality.
Results: Thirty-seven documents were included in the review. Studies focused on formal health workers revealing knowledge gaps concerning the role of private sector and non-health providers who increasingly provide ECP. Data from the findings section in the documents were coded under 4 themes: provider knowledge; provider attitudes and beliefs; provider practice and provider training. The analysis revealed provider knowledge gaps, less than favourable attitudes and practice issues. The findings provide limited insight into products prescribed and/or dispensed, the frequency of provision, and information and advice offered to consumers. Pre and in-service training needs were noted.
Conclusion: As the provision of ECPs shifts from the clinic-based health sector to increasing provision by the private sector, the limited understanding of provider performance and the practice gaps revealed in this review highlight the need to further examine provider performance to inform the development of appropriate workforce interventions. A standardized approach to assessing performance using agreed outcomes measures may serve to ensure a systematic way forward that is inclusive of the diverse workforce that deliver ECP. Recommendations are outlined to enhance the performance of providers to improve access to ECP. A framework is offered to help guide this process with indicators.