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.
Amira M. Khan, Zohra S. Lassi, and Zulfiqar A. Bhutta
Despite the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) more than 30 years ago, people with disabilities experience significant barriers to exercising their right to sexual and reproductive health throughout their life course. The historical segregation and stigmatization of disabled individuals has created the conditions in which members of this population experience persistent disparities in the prevalence of adverse health conditions and inadequate attention to care, along with disparities in preventive care, health promotion, and access to health care services. These disparities manifest in social services and health care generally and also in the sphere of sexual and reproductive health. Among many direct care workers, health care providers, and family members, assumptions persist that individuals with disabilities are asexual, unable to exercise informed consent to sexual activity, and unable to carry a pregnancy to term or to parent successfully. These assumptions adversely affect the ability of individuals with disabilities to access basic information about their sexual health and function in order to make informed decisions about their sexual activity, and also impact their access to preventive health screening, contraception, and perinatal care. Inadequate transportation and physically inaccessible environments and equipment such as examination tables pose additional barriers for some disabled individuals. A lack of training in disability-competent care among health care professionals is a pervasive problem and presents yet another challenge to obtaining appropriate and necessary information and care. Despite these barriers, the research shows that more and more women with disabilities are having children, and there is an increasing recognition that people with disabilities have a right to sexual expression and appropriate sexual and reproductive health care , accompanied by a gradual evolution among social services and health care providers to provide the necessary information and support.
Yuelong Ji, Ramkripa Raghavan, and Xiaobin Wang
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a complex neurodevelopmental condition characterized by impairments in social interaction and communication and by the presence of restrictive, repetitive behavior. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is another common lifelong neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by three major presentations: predominantly hyperactive/impulsive, predominantly inattentive, and combined. Although ASD and ADHD are different clinical diagnoses, they share various common characteristics, including male dominance, early childhood onset, links to prenatal and perinatal factors, common comorbidity for each other, and, often, persistence into adulthood. They also have both unique and shared risk factors, which originate in early life and have lifelong implications on the affected individuals and families and society. While genetic factors contribute to ASD and ADHD risk, the environmental contribution to ASD and ADHD has been recognized as having potentially equal importance, which raises the hope for early prevention and intervention. Maternal folate levels, maternal metabolic syndrome, and metabolic biomarkers have been associated with the risk of childhood ASD; while maternal high-density lipoprotein, maternal psychosocial stress, and in utero exposure to opioids have been associated with the risk of childhood ADHD. As for shared factors, male sex, preterm birth, placental pathology, and early life exposure to acetaminophen have been associated with both ASD and ADHD. The high rate of comorbidity of ASD and ADHD and their many shared early life risk factors suggest that early identification and intervention of common early life risk factors may be cost-effective to lower the risk of both conditions. Efforts to improve maternal preconception, prenatal, and perinatal health will not only help reduce adverse reproductive and birth outcomes but will also help mitigate the risk of ASD and ADHD associated with those adverse early life events.
Tim Shand and Arik V. Marcell
Engaging men in sexual and reproductive health (SRH) across the life span is necessary for meeting men’s own SRH needs, including: prevention of STIs, HIV, unintended pregnancy, and reproductive system cancers; prevention and management of infertility and male sexual dysfunction; and promotion of men’s sexual health and broader well-being. Engaging men is also important given their relationship to others, particularly their partners and families, enabling men to: equitably support contraceptive use and family planning and to share responsibilities for healthy sexuality and reproduction; improve maternal, newborn, and child health; prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV; and advocate for sexual and reproductive rights for all. Engaging men is also critical to achieving gender equality and challenging inequitable power dynamics and harmful gender norms that can undermine women’s SRH outcomes, rights, and autonomy and that can discourage help- and health-seeking behaviors among men. Evidence shows that engaging men in SRH can effectively improve health and equality outcomes, particularly for women and children. Approaches to involving men are most effective when they take a gender transformative approach, work at the personal, social, structural, and cultural levels, address specific life stages, and reflect a broad approach to sexuality, masculinities, and gender. While there has been growth in the field of men’s engagement since 2010, it has primarily focused on men’s role as supportive to their partners’ SRH. There remains a gap in evidence and practice around better engaging men as SRH clients and service users in their own right, including providing high-quality and accessible male-friendly services. A greater focus is required within global and national policy, research, programs, and services to scale up, institutionalize, and standardize approaches to engaging men in SRH.
Ralph J. DiClemente and Nihari Patel
At the end of 2016, there were approximately 36.7 million people living with HIV worldwide with 1.6 million people being newly infected. In the same year, 1 million people died from HIV-related causes globally. The vast prevalence of HIV calls for an urgent need to develop and implement prevention programs aimed at reducing risk behaviors. Bronfenbrenner’s socio-ecological model provides an organizing framework to discuss HIV prevention interventions implemented at the individual, relational, community, and societal level. Historically, many interventions in the field of public health have targeted the individual level. Individual-level interventions promote behavior change by enhancing HIV knowledge, attitudes, and beliefs and by motivating the adoption of preventative behaviors. Relational-level interventions focus on behavior change by using peers, partners, or family members to encourage HIV-preventative practices. At the community-level, prevention interventions aim to reduce HIV vulnerability by changing HIV-risk behaviors within schools, workplaces, or neighborhoods. Lastly, societal interventions attempt to change policies and laws to enable HIV-preventative practices. While previous interventions implemented in each of these domains have proven to be effective, a multipronged approach to HIV prevention is needed such that it tackles the complex interplay between the individual and their social and physical environment. Ideally, a multipronged intervention strategy would consist of interventions at different levels that complement each other to synergistically reinforce risk reduction while simultaneously creating an environment that promotes behavior change. Multilevel interventions provide a promising avenue for researchers and program developers to consider all levels of influences on an individual’s behavior and design a comprehensive HIV risk-reduction program.
Samuel Akombeng Ojong, Bridgette Wamakima, Cheryl A. Moyer, and Marleen Temmerman
Maternal health and well-being refers to the physical, psychological, and emotional well-being of women during pregnancy, childbirth, and the postnatal period, as well as the absence of any morbidities or death either due to pregnancy or its management. Despite making a comparatively late appearance on the international global policy agenda, maternal health and well-being has progressively become a global health policy priority following Deborah Maine’s revolutionary article on maternal mortality. Consequently, key international policy events from Alma Ata to the International Conference on Population and Development events, through the Millennium Development Goals to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in the last decade have consecrated women’s inalienable right to safe and respectful health services. Also, the growing focus on rights-based care against the backdrop of the need to ensure equity in all communities worldwide has led to an evolution in policy focus, calling on health systems to not only protect women and girls from preventable deaths but to also empower them to thrive, all while recognizing their unique role is ensuring the positive transformation of the communities in which they live. This increasing policy attention has contributed to a disproportionate yet marked reduction in global maternal mortality and morbidity statistics over the last 30 years. However, if the world is to achieve its 2030 SDGs women’s health and gender equality agendas, it is important to recognize that the broad concept of women’s health cannot be limited to the rather narrow window of pregnancy, childbirth, and the postpartum period. While there are huge gaps in all resource-type settings in promoting and protecting women’s agency and autonomy, the fact remains that in addition to ensuring the availability of and access to high-quality maternal health services, women’s health outcomes are inextricably linked to their decision-making power on key issues such as when to become sexually active, the use of contraception, whether or not they want to achieve pregnancy and childbirth, and access to safe abortion care services. Additionally, the growing burden of noncommunicable diseases and the increasing occurrence of worldwide pandemics are providing novel challenges to the health and well-being of the world’s most vulnerable women and girls, thus creating the need to ensure resilient health systems that are considerate of the rights and wishes of the world’s women and girls.
Li Liu, Lucia Hug, Diana Yeung, and Danzhen You
As under-5 mortality declines globally, newborn or neonatal mortality is becoming increasingly important. Depending on measurement and empirical data sources, calculation of the magnitude and trend of all-cause and cause-specific neonatal mortality ranges from direct methods to model-based estimates. From 1990 to 2019, the global neonatal mortality rate decreased by 52%, though wide regional variations persist, with sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) consistently experiencing the highest neonatal mortality rates, followed by Southern Asia, accounting for 79% of the 2.4 million total newborn deaths in 2019. Globally, most deaths in 2019 are due to preterm birth complications (36%), intrapartum-related events (24%), congenital abnormalities (10%), pneumonia (8%), and sepsis (7%). Since 2000, in low- and middle-income regions like Central Asia and South Asia and SSA, most deaths were avoided through declines in intrapartum-related events (3.4% and 1.9% AARR [average annual rate of reduction from 2000 to 2019], respectively) and preterm birth complications (2.9% and 1.9% AARR, respectively); whereas high-income regions like Europe, Northern America, Eastern Asia and South-Eastern Asia were more rapidly able to reduce deaths due to congenital abnormalities (2.8% and 3.2% AARR, respectively). More investment is urgently required to improve data collection and data quality, as well as to leverage supporting empirical data with statistical modeling to improve the validity of neonatal mortality and cause-of-death estimates.