INTRODUCTION: A systematic review of the economic evidence on home visitation programmes for young or vulnerable pregnant women was undertaken to provide a summary of the existing literature of these interventions.
SOURCES OF DATA: Relevant studies were identified from a number of sources including large databases, free text search on Google Scholar as well as hand-searching of the obtained references. The search yielded a large number of papers, of which 12 were considered appropriate to be included in the review. These were either full or partial economic evaluations: four studies were cost-benefit analyses, three were cost-effectiveness analyses and the remaining were costing studies.
AREAS OF AGREEMENT: The review highlighted the paucity of good quality economic evaluations in the area of home visiting programmes for young or vulnerable pregnant women. Methods varied substantially between the studies spanning from differing data sources (e.g. single randomized trials or meta-analyses) to different perspectives taken, cost items and outcomes included in the analysis.
AREAS OF CONTROVERSY: It is difficult to establish a coherent body of economic evidence for these interventions and draw a firm conclusion on their value for money.
GROWING POINTS: Home visiting programmes are complex interventions, with impact on the lives of mothers and their children. The funding of such interventions should be based on rigorous effectiveness and economic evidence.
AREAS TIMELY FOR DEVELOPING RESEARCH: There is a need for well-designed economic evaluations which will follow the appropriate methodological guidelines and also take into account the complexity of such interventions. These analyses should preferably consider multiple perspectives and allow for the fact that the majority of the benefits accrue in the long-term future.