Effectiveness of cash-plus programmes on early childhood outcomes compared to cash transfers alone: A systematic review and meta-analysis in low- and middle-income countries

Effectiveness of cash-plus programmes on early childhood outcomes compared to cash transfers alone: A systematic review and meta-analysis in low- and middle-income countries

Little, M. T. Roelen, K. Lange, B. C. L. Steinert, J. I. Yakubovich, A. R. Cluver, L. Humphreys, D. K.
PLoS Medicine / Public Library of Science
BACKGROUND: To strengthen the impact of cash transfers, these interventions have begun to be packaged as cash-plus programmes, combining cash with additional transfers, interventions, or services. The intervention's complementary ("plus") components aim to improve cash transfer effectiveness by targeting mediating outcomes or the availability of supplies or services. This study examined whether cash-plus interventions for infants and children <5 are more effective than cash alone in improving health and well-being. METHODS AND FINDINGS: Forty-two databases, donor agencies, grey literature sources, and trial registries were systematically searched, yielding 5,097 unique articles (as of 06 April 2021). Randomised and quasi-experimental studies were eligible for inclusion if the intervention package aimed to improve outcomes for children <5 in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) and combined a cash transfer with an intervention targeted to Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 2 (No Hunger), SDG3 (Good Health and Well-being), SDG4 (Education), or SDG16 (Violence Prevention), had at least one group receiving cash-only, examined outcomes related to child-focused SDGs, and was published in English. Risk of bias was appraised using Cochrane Risk of Bias and ROBINS-I Tools. Random effects meta-analyses were conducted for a cash-plus intervention category when there were at least 3 trials with the same outcome. The review was preregistered with PROSPERO (CRD42018108017). Seventeen studies were included in the review and 11 meta-analysed. Most interventions operated during the first 1,000 days of the child's life and were conducted in communities facing high rates of poverty and often, food insecurity. Evidence was found for 10 LMICs, where most researchers used randomised, longitudinal study designs (n = 14). Five intervention categories were identified, combining cash with nutrition behaviour change communication (BCC, n = 7), food transfers (n = 3), primary healthcare (n = 2), psychosocial stimulation (n = 7), and child protection (n = 4) interventions. Comparing cash-plus to cash alone, meta-analysis results suggest Cash + Food Transfers are more effective in improving height-for-age (d = 0.08 SD (0.03, 0.14), p = 0.02) with significantly reduced odds of stunting (OR = 0.82 (0.74, 0.92), p = 0.01), but had no added impact in improving weight-for-height (d = -0.13 (-0.42, 0.16), p = 0.24) or weight-for-age z-scores (d = -0.06 (-0.28, 0.15), p = 0.43). There was no added impact above cash alone from Cash + Nutrition BCC on anthropometrics; Cash + Psychosocial Stimulation on cognitive development; or Cash + Child Protection on parental use of violent discipline or exclusive positive parenting. Narrative synthesis evidence suggests that compared to cash alone, Cash + Primary Healthcare may have greater impacts in reducing mortality and Cash + Food Transfers in preventing acute malnutrition in crisis contexts. The main limitations of this review are the few numbers of studies that compared cash-plus interventions against cash alone and the potentially high heterogeneity between study findings. CONCLUSIONS: In this study, we observed that few cash-plus combinations were more effective than cash transfers alone. Cash combined with food transfers and primary healthcare show the greatest signs of added effectiveness. More research is needed on when and how cash-plus combinations are more effective than cash alone, and work in this field must ensure that these interventions improve outcomes among the most vulnerable children.

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