A rapid systematic review and evidence synthesis of effective coverage measures and cascades for childbirth, newborn and child health in low- and middle-income countries

J Glob Health. 2022 Jan 15:12:04001. doi: 10.7189/jogh.12.04001. eCollection 2022.


Background: Effective coverage measures aim to estimate the proportion of a population in need of a service that received a positive health outcome. In 2020, the Effective Coverage Think Tank Group recommended using a 'coverage cascade' for maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health and nutrition (MNCAHN), which organises components of effective coverage in a stepwise fashion, with each step accounting for different aspects of quality of care (QoC), applied at the population level. The cascade outlines six steps that increase the likelihood that the population in need experience the intended health benefit: 1) the population in need (target population) who contact a health service; 2) that has the inputs available to deliver the service; 3) who receive the health service; 4) according to quality standards; 5) and adhere to prescribed medication(s) or health workers instructions; and 6) experience the expected health outcome. We examined how effective coverage of life-saving interventions from childbirth to children aged nine has been defined and assessed which steps of the cascade are captured by existing measures.

Methods: We undertook a rapid systematic review. Seven scientific literature databases were searched covering the period from May 1, 2017 to July, 8 2021. Reference lists from reviews published in 2018 and 2019 were examined to identify studies published prior to May 2017. Eligible studies reported population-level contact coverage measures adjusted for at least one dimension of QoC.

Results: Based on these two search approaches this review includes literature published from 2010 to 2021. From 16 662 records reviewed, 33 studies were included, reporting 64 effective coverage measures. The most frequently examined measures were for childbirth and immediate newborn care (n = 24). No studies examined measures among children aged five to nine years. Definitions of effective coverage varied across studies. Key sources of variability included (i) whether a single effective coverage measure was reported for a package of interventions or separate measures were calculated for each intervention; (ii) the number and type of coverage cascade steps applied to adjust for QoC; and (iii) the individual items included in the effective coverage definition and the methods used to generate a composite quality measure.

Conclusion: In the MNCAHN literature there is substantial heterogeneity in both definitions and construction of effective coverage, limiting the comparability of measures over time and place. Current measurement approaches are not closely aligned with the proposed cascade. For widespread adoption, there is a need for greater standardisation of indicator definitions and transparency in reporting, so governments can use these measures to improve investments in MNACHN and implement life-saving health policies and programs.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Health
  • Child
  • Child Health*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Developing Countries*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Income
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Pregnancy
  • Quality of Health Care