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Too poor or too far? Partitioning the variability of hospital-based childbirth by poverty and travel time in Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria and Tanzania
Authors: Kerry L. M. Wong, Oliver J. Brady, Oona M. R. Campbell, Aduragbemi Banke-Thomas, and Lenka Benova
Source: International Journal for Equity in Health, 19(1): 1-15: DOI: 10.1186/s12939-020-1123-y
Topic(s): Delivery care
Institutional births
Maternal health
Country: Africa
  Multiple African Countries
Published: JAN 2020
Abstract: Background In sub-Saharan Africa, women are most likely to receive skilled and adequate childbirth care in hospital settings, yet the use of hospital for childbirth is low and inequitable. The poorest and those living furthest away from a hospital are most affected. But the relative contribution of poverty and travel time is convoluted, since hospitals are often located in wealthier urban places and are scarcer in poorer remote area. This study aims to partition the variability in hospital-based childbirth by poverty and travel time in four sub-Saharan African countries. Methods We used data from the most recent Demographic and Health Survey in Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria and Tanzania. For each country, geographic coordinates of survey clusters, the master list of hospital locations and a high-resolution map of land surface friction were used to estimate travel time from each DHS cluster to the nearest hospital with a shortest-path algorithm. We quantified and compared the predicted probabilities of hospital-based childbirth resulting from one standard deviation (SD) change around the mean for different model predictors. Results The mean travel time to the nearest hospital, in minutes, was 27 (Kenya), 31 (Malawi), 25 (Nigeria) and 62 (Tanzania). In Kenya, a change of 1SD in wealth led to a 33.2 percentage points change in the probability of hospital birth, whereas a 1SD change in travel time led to a change of 16.6 percentage points. The marginal effect of 1SD change in wealth was weaker than that of travel time in Malawi (13.1 vs. 34.0 percentage points) and Tanzania (20.4 vs. 33.7 percentage points). In Nigeria, the two were similar (22.3 vs. 24.8 percentage points) but their additive effect was twice stronger (44.6 percentage points) than the separate effects. Random effects from survey clusters also explained substantial variability in hospital-based childbirth in all countries, indicating other unobserved local factors at play. Conclusions Both poverty and long travel time are important determinants of hospital birth, although they vary in the extent to which they influence whether women give birth in a hospital within and across countries. This suggests that different strategies are needed to effectively enable poor women and women living in remote areas to gain access to skilled and adequate care for childbirth.