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The unfinished health agenda: Neonatal mortality in Cambodia
Authors: Rathmony Hong, Pauline Yongeun Ahn, Frank Wieringa, Tung Rathavym, Ludovic Gauthier, Rathavuth Hong, Arnaud Laillou, Judit Van Geystelen, Jacques Berger, and Etienne Poirot
Source: PLOS ONE , 12(3): e0173763;
Topic(s): Neonatal mortality
Country: Asia
Published: MAR 2017
Abstract: Background Reduction of neonatal and under-five mortality rates remains a primary target in the achievement of universal health goals, as evident in renewed investments of Sustainable Development Goals. Various studies attribute declines in mortality to the combined effects of improvements in health care practices and changes in socio-economic factors. Since the early nineties, Cambodia has managed to evolve from a country devastated by war to a nation soon to enter the group of middle income countries. Cambodia's development efforts are reflected in some remarkable health outcomes such as a significant decline in child mortality rates and the early achievement of related Millennium Development Goals. An achievement acknowledged through the inclusion of Cambodia as one of the ten fast-track countries in the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health. This study aims to highlight findings from the field so to provide evidence for future programming and policy efforts. It will be argued that to foster further advances in health, Cambodia will need to keep neonatal survival and health high on the agenda and tackle exacerbating inequities that arise from a pluralistic health system with considerable regional differences and socio-economic disparities. Methods/Findings Data was drawn from Demographic Health Surveys (2000, 2005, 2010, 2014). Information on a series of demographic and socio-economic household characteristics and on child anthropometry, feeding practices and child health were collected from nationally representative samples. To reach the required sample size, live-births that occurred over the past 10 years before the date of the interview were included. Demographic variables included: gender of the child, living area (urban or rural; four ecological regions (constructed by merging provinces and the capital), mother’s age at birth (<20, 20–35, 35+), birth interval (long, short) and birth order (1st, 2–3, 4–6, 7+). Socio-economic variables included: mother education level (none, primary, secondary+) and household wealth (asset-based index). Data on antenatal care, tetanus injection and skilled assistance at birth were used for the mother's last child. Between 2000 and 2014, Cambodia achieved a considerable reduction in neonatal mortality (46% reduction rate). By 2014, gender inequities became almost non-existent (for all measures of equality); inequity related to mother’s education decreased for all time periods; improvements were observed for differences in neonatal mortality by preceding birth interval; and a reduction in neonatal mortality rates could be noted among all the regional subgroups. Inequities increased between mothers who had limited antenatal care and those who received more than four antenatal care visits. In most scale indicators, the Slope Index of Inequality and Relative Index of Inequality estimates for all four rounds of the survey suggest inequity exacerbated in deprived communities. Also, wealth and residence (urban/rural divide) continued to be major determinants in neonatal mortality rates and related inequity trends. Conclusion Analysis highlighted some of the complex patterns and determinants of neonatal mortality, in Cambodia. There has been a considerable decline in neonatal mortality which echoes global trends. Our analysis reveals that despite these advances, additional socio-economic and demographic characteristics considerably affected neonatal mortality rates and its inequities. There continue to be pockets of vulnerable groups that are lagging behind. This analysis highlights the determinants along the urban-rural and rich-poor divides in neonatal mortality inequities and how these affect access to and utilization of quality basic health services. This calls for future policy and programming efforts to be deliberate in their equity approach. Quality improvements in health services and targeted interventions for specific socio-economic groups will be required to further accelerate progress in reducing neonatal mortality and address Cambodia’s pressing unfinished agenda in health.