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Open Access Research article

Assessment of the proportion of neonates and children in low and middle income countries with access to a healthcare facility: A systematic review

Aruna Chandran1*, Hadley K Herbert2, Anne CC Lee2, Igor Rudan3 and Abdullah H Baqui4

Author Affiliations

1 Departments of International Health and Pediatrics, Johns Hopkins University, 615 N. Wolfe Street, Suite E8622, Baltimore, MD 21205; USA

2 Department of International Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, 615 N. Wolfe Street, Baltimore, MD 21205; USA

3 Centre for Population Health Research and Global Health Academy, The University of Edinburgh Medical School, Teviot Place, Edinburgh, EH8 9AG, Scotland, UK

4 Department of International Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, 615 N. Wolfe Street, Suite E8138, Baltimore, MD 21205; USA

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BMC Research Notes 2011, 4:536  doi:10.1186/1756-0500-4-536

Published: 13 December 2011



Comprehensive antenatal, perinatal and early postnatal care has the potential to significantly reduce the 3.58 million neonatal deaths that occur annually worldwide. This paper systematically reviews data on the proportion of neonates and children < 5 years of age that have access to health facilities in low and middle income countries. Gaps in available data by WHO region are identified, and an agenda for future research and advocacy is proposed.


For this paper, "utilization" was used as a proxy for "access" to a healthcare facility, and the term "facility" was used for any clinic or hospital outside of a person's home staffed by a "medical professional". A systematic literature search was conducted for published studies of children up to 5 years of age that included the neonatal age group with an illness or illness symptoms in which health facility utilization was quantified. In addition, information from available Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) was extracted.


The initial broad search yielded 2,239 articles, of which 14 presented relevant data. From the community-based neonatal studies conducted in the Southeast Asia region with the goal of enhancing care-seeking for neonates with sepsis, the 10-48% of sick neonates in the studies' control arms utilized a healthcare facility. Data from cross-sectional surveys involving young children indicate that 12 to 86% utilizing healthcare facilities when sick. From the DHS surveys, a global median of 58.1% of infants < 6 months were taken to a facility for symptoms of ARI.


There is a scarcity of data regarding the access to facility-based care for sick neonates/young children in many areas of the world; it was not possible to generalize an overall number of neonates or young children that utilize a healthcare facility when showing signs and symptoms of illness. The estimate ranges were broad, and there was a paucity of data from some regions. It is imperative that researchers, advocates, and policy makers join together to better understand the factors affecting health care utilization/access for newborns in different settings and what the barriers are that prevent children from being taken to a facility in a timely manner.