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Amira M. Khan, Zohra S. Lassi, and Zulfiqar A. Bhutta

Nearly 80% of the world’s population lives in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) and these regions bear the greatest burden of maternal, neonatal, and child mortality, with most of the deaths occurring at home. Much of global maternal and child mortality is attributable to easily preventable and treatable conditions. However, the challenge lies in reaching the most vulnerable communities, especially the rural populations, making it imperative that maternal, newborn, and child health (MNCH) interventions focus on communities in tandem with facility-based strategies. There is widespread consensus that delivering effective primary health care (PHC) interventions through the continuum of care, starting from pregnancy to delivery and then to the newborn, infant, and the young child, is an integral component of health strategies in high-, middle- and low-income settings. Despite gaps in research, several effective community-based PHC approaches have been proven to impact MNCH positively. Implementation of these strategies is needed at scale in LMICs and in partnership with all stakeholders including the public and private sector. Community-based PHC, operating on the principles of community engagement and community mobilization, is now more critical than ever. Further robust studies are needed to evaluate certain strategies of community-based PHC and their impact on maternal and child health outcomes, such as the use of mobile technology and social franchises. Recognition of community health workers (CHWs) as a formal cadre and the integration of community-based health services within PHC are vital in strengthening efforts to impact maternal, neonatal, and child health outcomes positively. However, despite the importance of community-based PHC for MNCH in LMICs, the existence of a strong health system and skilled workforce is central to achieving positive health outcomes in these regions.


Roger Shrimpton

Malnutrition is caused by consuming a diet with either too little and/or too much of one or more nutrients, such that the body malfunctions. These nutrients can be the macronutrients, including proteins, carbohydrates, and fats that provide the body with its building blocks and energy, or the micronutrients including vitamins and minerals, that help the body to function. Infectious diseases, such as diarrhea, can also cause malnutrition through decreased nutrient absorption, decreased intake of food, increased metabolic requirements, and direct nutrient loss. A double burden of malnutrition (both overnutrition and undernutrition) often occurs across the life course of individuals and can also coexist in the same communities and even the same households. While about a quarter of the world’s children are stunted, due to both maternal and young child undernutrition, overweight and obesity affects about one in three adults and one in ten children. Anemia, most commonly due to iron deficiency, is also affecting about a third of women of reproductive age and almost half of preschool children. Around 90% of nations have a serious burden of either two or three of these different forms of malnutrition. Malnutrition is one of the principal and growing causes of global disease and mortality, affecting at least half of the world’s inhabitants. Programs for tackling maternal and child undernutrition have gained impetus in the last decade with a consensus developing around a package of effective interventions. The nutrition-specific interventions, mostly delivered through the health sector, are directed at immediate levels of causality, while nutrition-sensitive interventions, directed at the underlying and basic levels of causality are delivered through other sectors such as agriculture, education, social welfare, as well as water and sanitation. Less consensus exists around the interventions needed to reduce overnutrition and the associated non-communicable diseases (NCDs), including diabetes, high blood pressure, and coronary heart disease. Prevention is certainly better than cure, however, and creating enabling environments for healthy food choices seems to be the most promising approach. Achieving “healthy diets for all,” by reducing consumption of meat and ultra-processed foods, as well as increasing consumption of fruit and vegetables, would help control rising rates of obesity and reduce NCD mortality. Adopting such healthy diets would also greatly contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions: the agriculture sector is responsible for producing a third of emissions, and a reduction on livestock farming would contribute to reducing global warming. Public health nutrition capacity to manage such nutrition programs is still widely lacking, however, and much still needs to be done to improve these programs and their governance.