Background: Community-based primary health care (CBPHC) is an approach used by health programs to extend preventive and curative health services beyond health facilities into communities and even down to households. Evidence of the effectiveness of CBPHC in improving maternal, neonatal and child health (MNCH) has been summarized by others, but our review gives particular attention to not only the effectiveness of specific interventions but also their delivery strategies at the community level along with their equity effects. This is the first article in a series that summarizes and analyzes the assessments of programs, projects, and research studies (referred to collectively as projects) that used CBPHC to improve MNCH in low- and middle-income countries. The review addresses the following questions: (1) What kinds of projects were implemented? (2) What were the outcomes of these projects? (3) What kinds of implementation strategies were used? (4) What are the implications of these findings?
Methods: 12 166 reports were identified through a search of articles in the National Library of Medicine database (PubMed). In addition, reports in the gray literature (available online but not published in a peer-reviewed journal) were also reviewed. Reports that describe the implementation of one or more community-based interventions or an integrated project in which an assessment of the effectiveness of the project was carried out qualified for inclusion in the review. Outcome measures that qualified for inclusion in the review were population-based indicators that defined some aspect of health status: changes in population coverage of evidence-based interventions or changes in serious morbidity, in nutritional status, or in mortality.
Results: 700 assessments qualified for inclusion in the review. Two independent reviewers completed a data extraction form for each assessment. A third reviewer compared the two data extraction forms and resolved any differences. The maternal interventions assessed concerned education about warning signs of pregnancy and safe delivery; promotion and/or provision of antenatal care; promotion and/or provision of safe delivery by a trained birth attendant, screening and treatment for HIV infection and other maternal infections; family planning, and; HIV prevention and treatment. The neonatal and child health interventions that were assessed concerned promotion or provision of good nutrition and immunizations; promotion of healthy household behaviors and appropriate utilization of health services, diagnosis and treatment of acute neonatal and child illness; and provision and/or promotion of safe water, sanitation and hygiene. Two-thirds of assessments (63.0%) were for projects implementing three or fewer interventions in relatively small populations for relatively brief periods; half of the assessments involved fewer than 5000 women or children, and 62.9% of the assessments were for projects lasting less than 3 years. One-quarter (26.6%) of the projects were from three countries in South Asia: India, Bangladesh and Nepal. The number of reports has grown markedly during the past decade. A small number of funders supported most of the assessments, led by the United States Agency for International Development. The reviewers judged the methodology for 90% of the assessments to be adequate.
Conclusions: The evidence regarding the effectiveness of community-based interventions to improve the health of mothers, neonates, and children younger than 5 years of age is growing rapidly. The database created for this review serves as the basis for a series of articles that follow this one on the effectiveness of CBPHC in improving MNCH published in the Journal of Global Health. These findings, together with recommendations provided by an Expert Panel which has guided this review, that are included as the last paper in this series, will help to provide the rationale for building stronger community-based platforms for delivering evidence-based interventions in high-mortality, resource-constrained settings.