Maternal and newborn health for the urban poor: the need for a new mental model and implementation strategies to accelerate progress

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Urbanization challenges the assumptions that have traditionally influenced maternal and newborn health (MNH) programs. This landscaping outlines how current mental models for MNH programs have fallen short for urban slum populations and identifies implications for the global community. We employed a three-pronged approach, including a literature review, key informant interviews with global- and national-level experts, and a case study in Bangladesh.

Main body

Our findings highlight that the current mental model for MNH is inadequate to address the needs of the urban poor. Implementation challenges have arisen from using traditional methods that are not well adapted to traits inherent in slum settings. A re-thinking of implementation strategies will also need to consider a paucity of available routine data, lack of formal coordination between stakeholders and providers, and challenging municipal government structures. Innovative approaches, including with communications, outreach, and technology, will be necessary to move beyond traditional rural-centric approaches to MNH. As populations continue to urbanize, common slum dynamics will challenge conventional strategies for health service delivery. In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed weaknesses in a system that requires intersectoral collaborations to deliver quality care.


Programs will need to be iterative and adaptive, reflective of sociodemographic features. Integrating the social determinants of health into evaluations, using participatory human-centered design processes, and innovative public-private partnerships may prove beneficial in slum settings. But a willingness to rethink the roles of all actors within the delivery system overall may be needed most.

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