Global health study highlights need to boost coverage of maternal and child health services

29 Oct 2020

While improving reproductive, maternal, newborn and child health is a top global health priority, low- and middle-income countries continue to lag in the provision of such services. These gaps in global health service coverage are also forecast to persist into the future without urgent funding and interventions, according to a study by Life Course Centre researchers at UQ’s Institute for Social Science Research (ISSR).

The international study used Demographic and Health Survey data from 75 low- and middle-income countries to investigate the provision of reproductive, maternal, newborn and child health services, and to identify gaps in coverage. Although it did find the coverage of such services is improving in low- and middle-income countries, the progress is uneven within and between countries and insufficient to meet targets set by United Nations 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.

None of the low- and middle-income countries are likely to achieve overall universal coverage of reproductive, maternal, newborn and child health services by 2030. This includes services such as oral rehydration therapy for diarrhea treatment and care seeking for acute respiratory infections. Only a small number of countries may achieve targets for certain services such as antenatal care visits, skilled birth attendants and childhood immunization.

The study identified the coverage gaps as being driven primarily by sociodemographic inequalities, which need to be the key focus of targeted funding and interventions. “In particular, most sub-Saharan African and South and South East Asian countries are very unlikely to achieve 2030 target coverage due to overall low coverage as well as high coverage gaps in services between the richest and poorest, urban and rural, and high and low education sub-groups,” said ISSR student Md. Mehedi Hasan.

“These results reflect the urgent need for health interventions targeting disadvantaged countries and marginalized populations within these countries to achieve universal access to services and reduce global health inequalities. Increasing funding for reproductive, maternal, newborn and child health services can help interventions to reach marginalised and disadvantaged populations. Acceleration is needed in multidisciplinary collaborative actions that go beyond current commitments in allocating resources, implementing programs and continually monitoring progress and coverage gaps.”

Improving reproductive, maternal, newborn, and child health care services is a pressing global health imperative for reducing maternal and child morbidity and mortality rates. This study provides the most up-to-date analysis on service provision in low- and middle-income countries, and gaps in coverage, to inform coordinated global efforts and policies.

The study ‘Meeting the global target in reproductive, maternal, newborn, and child health care services in low- and middle-income countries’ is published in Global Health: Science and Practice.

It was led by Md. Mehedi Hasan, a Life Course Centre PhD student at ISSR, guided by his supervisors Associate Professor Abdullah Mamun, Associate Professor Ricardo J Soares Magalhaes and Professor Saifuddin Ahmed, and included collaboration with Johns Hopkins University.