There are both potential benefits and risks associated with preconception care. Preconception care could result in large health and social benefits in LMIC. It could also be misused to limit the autonomy of women and reinforce the notion that the focus of all efforts to improve the health of girls and women should be at improving maternal and child health outcomes rather than at improving the health of girls and women as individuals in their own right.
There are challenges in delivering preconception care. While the potential benefits of preconception care programmes could be substantial, extending the traditional Maternal and Child Health package will be both a logistic and financial challenge.
We need to help countries set and achieve pragmatic and meaningful short term goals. While our long-term goal for preconception care should be for a full package of health and social interventions to be delivered to all women and couples of reproductive age everywhere, our short-term goals must be pragmatic. This is because countries that need preconception care most are the ones least likely to be able to afford them and deliver them. If we want these countries to take on the additional challenge of providing preconception care while they struggle to increase the coverage of prenatal care, skilled care at birth etc., we must help them identify and deliver a small number of effective interventions based on epidemiology and feasibility.
There is a growing evidence base for preconception care - - the provision of biomedical, behavioral and social interventions to women and couples before conception occurs. Firstly, there is evidence that health problems, problem behaviours and individual and environmental risks contribute to poor maternal and child health outcomes. Secondly, there are biomedical, behavioural and social interventions that when delivered before conception occurs, effectively address many of these health problems, problem behaviours and risk factors. And thirdly, there is emerging experience of how to deliver these interventions in low and middle income countries (LMIC) .
The preconception care interventions delivered and whom they are delivered to, will need to be tailored to local realities. The package of preconception care interventions delivered in a particular setting will depend on the local epidemiology, the interventions already being delivered, and the resources in place to deliver additional interventions. Although a range of population groups could benefit from preconception care, prioritization based on need and feasibility will be needed.
- call for action