Globally, women's access to health care remains a challenge, both in developing and developed countries. In the United States, before the Affordable Health Care Act came into effect, 25% of women of child-bearing age lacked health insurance. In the absence of adequate insurance, women are likely to avoid important steps to self care such as routine physical examination, screening and prevention testing, and prenatal care. The situation is aggravated by the fact that women living below the poverty line are at greater risk of unplanned pregnancy, unplanned delivery and elective abortion. Added to the financial burden in this group are poor educational achievement, lack of transportation, inflexible work schedules and difficulty obtaining child care, all of which function to create barriers to accessing health care. These problems are much worse in developing countries. Under 50% of childbirths in these countries are assisted by healthcare providers (e.g. midwives, nurses, doctors) which accounts for higher rates of maternal death, up to 1:1,000 live births. This is despite the WHO setting standards, such as a minimum of four antenatal visits. A lack of healthcare providers, facilities, and resources such as formularies all contribute to high levels of morbidity amongst women from avoidable conditions such as obstetrical fistulae, sexually transmitted diseases and cervical cancer.
Our findings identified gaps and limitations in the evaluation, scope, targeting, and delivery platforms of nutrition interventions in low- and middle-income countries. First, the monitoring and evaluation of nutrition programs that reported on women's nutrition outcomes was generally inadequate. Many of the studies we identified included small-scale efficacy trials. Although there were many large-scale programs that targeted women and adolescent girls with nutrition-specific and nutrition-sensitive approaches, they lacked rigorous evaluation. Whether the evidence about women's outcomes was limited because they are not systematically measured or because they are not well reported is not clear. Negative results are often not published, and many evaluations of nutrition interventions that are conducted by the same groups responsible for implementing them are typically presented positively. This may have also skewed our findings. More intentional research-quality program evaluation, including of large-scale programs, would provide a stronger evidence base. Of the studies identified in this review, many reported on short-term findings such as changes in knowledge, dietary behaviors, and program coverage. They were limited in their ability to report clinical and anthropometric outcomes for women, the duration of those outcomes, and the feasibility of scaling up programs. There is also a need for systematic, long-term evaluations of interventions whose effects on nutrition outcomes are more distal (e.g., nutrition education compared with micronutrient supplementation). The effects of multisectoral interventions are even more complex to measure. However, frameworks exist to evaluate complex interventions (102) and could be utilized to evaluate the impact of interventions across the life course.