Peer support interventions in maternal and child healthcare delivery in sub-Saharan Africa: protocol for a realist review
Background: Peer support has been proposed as a promising policy intervention for addressing adverse maternal and child healthcare (MCH) outcomes in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). Existing reviews on peer support largely draw on evidence from high-income countries or focus on single services like breastfeeding, nutrition or postnatal care. In contrast, this review aims to provide a comprehensive overview of the empirical literature on peer support interventions across various MCH services in sub-Saharan Africa. Specifically, we aim to understand how, why, for whom, and in what circumstances different forms of MCH peer support interventions contribute to improving healthcare outcomes in sub-Saharan Africa. Methods: This review follows five iterative steps for undertaking realist reviews (1) defining the review scope; (2) developing initial programme theories; (3) searching for evidence; (4) selecting and appraising evidence; and (5) extracting, analysing and synthesising evidence. Four databases–Cochrane Library, PubMed, CINAHL, and EMBASE–were repeatedly searched between March and June 2021. From a large volume of records retrieved from the database and citation search, 61 papers have been selected for review. We will conduct a second search of the same database covering June 2021 to the present before the final extraction and synthesis. The final list of selected papers will be imported into NVivo 12 software and organised, extracted, analysed and synthesised iteratively to examine and illustrate the causal links between contexts, mechanisms and outcomes of MCH peer support interventions in SSA. We have drawn on the existing literature on peer support in healthcare generally to develop initial programme theories. We will then use the empirical literature on MCH peer support interventions in SSA, inputs from a stakeholders’ workshop in Ghana and a conference presentation to refine the initial programme theory. Discussion: The review will develop an explicit theory of peer support intervention in healthcare delivery and provide insights for developing evidence-informed policy on the intervention. Drawing lessons from the different national contexts and diverse areas of MCH in SSA, the review will provide an analytically generalizable programme theory that can guide intervention design and implementation. While focusing on MCH peer support interventions in SSA, the review contributes to evolving conversations on the use of theory for health policy planning and complex intervention design and implementation globally. Trial registration: PROSPERO registration ID: CRD42023427751.
Published in: Systematic Reviews, 10.1186/s13643-023-02366-3, Springer Nature