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PLoS One. 2013;8(2):e55012. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0055012. Epub 2013 Feb 4.

Effects of community participation on improving uptake of skilled care for maternal and newborn health: a systematic review.

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  • 1Department of Social and Environmental Health Research, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London, United Kingdom.



Despite a broad consensus that communities should be actively involved in improving their own health, evidence for the effect of community participation on specific health outcomes is limited. We examine the effectiveness of community participation interventions in maternal and newborn health, asking: did participation improve outcomes? We also look at how the impact of community participation has been assessed, particularly through randomised controlled trials, and make recommendations for future research. We highlight the importance of qualitative investigation, suggesting key areas for qualitative data reporting alongside quantitative work.


Systematic review of published and 'grey' literature from 1990. We searched 11 databases, and followed up secondary references. Main outcome measures were the use of skilled care before/during/after birth and maternal/newborn mortality/morbidity. We included qualitative and quantitative studies from any country, and used a community participation theoretical framework to analyse the data. We found 10 interventions. Community participation had largely positive impacts on maternal/newborn health as part of a package of interventions, although not necessarily on uptake of skilled care. Interventions improving mortality or use of skilled care raised awareness, encouraged dialogue and involved communities in designing solutions-but so did those showing no effect.


There are few high-quality, quantitative studies. We also lack information about why participation interventions do/do not succeed - an area of obvious interest for programme designers. Qualitative investigation can help fill this information gap and should be at the heart of future quantitative research examining participation interventions - in maternal/newborn health, and more widely. This review illustrates the need for qualitative investigation alongside RCTs and other quantitative studies to understand complex interventions in context, describe predicted and unforeseen impacts, assess potential for generalisability, and capture the less easily measurable social/political effects of encouraging participation.

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