Background: Lack of appropriate health care seeking for ill mothers and neonates contributes to high mortality rates. A major challenge is the appropriate mix of strategies for creating demand as well as provision of services.
Design: Systematic review and meta-analysis of experimental studies (last search: Jan 2015) to assess the impact of different strategies to improve maternal and neonatal health care seeking in low- and middle-income countries (LMIC).
Results: Fifty-eight experimental [randomized controlled trials (RCTs), non-RCTs, and before-after studies] with 310,652 participants met the inclusion criteria. Meta-analyses from 29 RCTs with a range of different interventions (e.g. mobilization, home visitation) indicated significant improvement in health care seeking for neonatal illnesses when compared with standard/no care [risk ratio (RR) 1.40; 95 confidence interval (CI): 1.17-1.68, 9 studies, n=30,572], whereas, no impact was seen on health care seeking for maternal illnesses (RR 1.06; 95% CI: 0.92-1.22, 5 studies, n=15,828). These interventions had a significant impact on reducing stillbirths (RR 0.82; 95% CI: 0.73-0.93, 11 studies, n=176,683), perinatal deaths (RR 0.84; 95% CI: 0.77-0.90, 15 studies, n=279,618), and neonatal mortality (RR 0.80; 95% CI: 0.72-0.89, 20 studies, n=248,848). On GRADE approach, evidence was high quality except for the outcome of maternal health care seeking, which was moderate.
Conclusions: Community-based interventions integrating strategies such as home visiting and counseling can help to reduce fetal and neonatal mortality in LMIC.
Keywords: developing countries; health care seeking; low- and middle-income countries; maternal health; neonatal health; neonatal mortality; perinatal mortality.