BACKGROUND: Accountability for ensuring sexual and reproductive health and rights is increasingly receiving global attention. Less attention has been paid to accountability mechanisms for sexual and reproductive health and rights at national and sub-national level, the focus of this systematic review.
METHODS: We searched for peer-reviewed literature using accountability, sexual and reproductive health, human rights and accountability instrument search terms across three electronic databases, covering public health, social sciences and legal studies. The search yielded 1906 articles, 40 of which met the inclusion and exclusion criteria (articles on low and middle-income countries in English, Spanish, French and Portuguese published from 1994 and October 2016) defined by a peer reviewed protocol.
RESULTS: Studies were analyzed thematically and through frequencies where appropriate. They were drawn from 41 low- and middle-income countries, with just over half of the publications from the public health literature, 13 from legal studies and the remaining six from social science literature. Accountability was discussed in five health areas: maternal, neonatal and child health services, HIV services, gender-based violence, lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender access and access to reproductive health care in general. We identified three main groupings of accountability strategies: performance, social and legal accountability.
CONCLUSION: The review identified an increasing trend in the publication of accountability initiatives in Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR). The review points towards a complex 'accountability ecosystem' with multiple actors with a range of roles, responsibilities and interactions across levels from the transnational to the local. These accountability strategies are not mutually exclusive, but they do change the terms of engagement between the actors involved. The publications provide little insight on the connections between these accountability strategies and on the contextual conditions for the successful implementation of the accountability interventions. Obtaining a more nuanced understanding of various underpinnings of a successful approach to accountability at national and sub national levels is essential.