Factors impacting antenatal care utilization: a systematic review of 37 fragile and conflict-affected situations

Confl Health. 2022 Jun 11;16(1):33. doi: 10.1186/s13031-022-00459-9.


Background: It is estimated that over 930 million people live in fragile and conflict-affected situations (FCAS) worldwide. These regions, characterized by violence, civil unrest, and war, are often governed by corrupt administrations who are unwilling to provide their citizens with basic human rights. Individuals living in FCAS face health inequities; however, women are disproportionally affected and face additional barriers to accessing sexual and reproductive services, including antenatal care (ANC). This systematic review aims to identify the factors that impact ANC usage in the 37 countries or regions classified as FCAS in 2020 by The World Bank.

Methods: Using the PRISMA guidelines, a systematic search of five databases (SCOPUS, Web of Science, PubMed, EMBASE, and CINAHL) was conducted. Results were limited to human studies, written in English, and published between January 2002 and January 2022. Studies that identified factors affecting utilization of ANC or maternal health services were included for review and critically appraised using the National Institute of Health's Quality Assessment Tools. Findings were summarized using a narrative synthesis approach.

Results: The database search yielded 26,527 studies. After title, abstract and full-text review, and exclusion of duplicate articles, 121 studies remained. Twenty-eight of the 37 FCAS were represented in the included studies. The studies highlighted that women in FCAS' are still not meeting the World Health Organization's 2002 recommendation of four ANC visits during pregnancy, a recommendation which has since been increased to eight visits. The most cited factors impacting ANC were socioeconomic status, education, and poor quality of ANC. Despite all studies being conducted in conflict-affected regions, only nine studies explicitly identified conflict as a direct barrier to accessing ANC.

Conclusion: This review demonstrated that there is a paucity in the literature examining the direct and indirect impacts of conflict on ANC utilization. Specifically, research should be conducted in the nine FCAS that are not currently represented in the literature. To mitigate the barriers that prevent utilization of maternal health services identified in this review, policy makers, women utilizing ANC, and global organizations should attempt to collaborate to enact policy change at the local level.

Keywords: Antenatal care; Fragile and conflict-affected situations; Maternal health; Maternal mortality; Sustainable development goals.

Publication types

  • Review