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Nationally and regionally representative analysis of 1.65 million children aged under 5 years using a child-based human development index: A multi-country cross-sectional study
Authors: Jan-Walter De Neve, Kenneth Harttgen, and Stéphane Verguet
Source: PLOS Medicine, 17(3): e1003054; DOI: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1003054
Topic(s): Child health
Childhood mortality
Children under five
Country: More than one region
  Multiple Regions
Published: MAR 2020
Abstract: Background Education and health are both constituents of human capital that enable people to earn higher wages and enhance people’s capabilities. Human capabilities may lead to fulfilling lives by enabling people to achieve a valuable combination of human functionings—i.e., what people are able to do or be as a result of their capabilities. A better understanding of how these different human capabilities are produced together could point to opportunities to help jointly reduce the wide disparities in health and education across populations. Methods and findings We use nationally and regionally representative individual-level data from Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) for 55 low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) to examine patterns in human capabilities at the national and regional levels, between 2000 and 2017 (N = 1,657,194 children under age 5). We graphically analyze human capabilities, separately for each country, and propose a novel child-based Human Development Index (HDI) based on under-five survival, maternal educational attainment, and measures of a child’s household wealth. We normalize the range of each component using data on the minimum and maximum values across countries (for national comparisons) or first-level administrative units within countries (for subnational comparisons). The scores that can be generated by the child-based HDI range from 0 to 1. We find considerable heterogeneity in child health across countries as well as within countries. At the national level, the child-based HDI ranged from 0.140 in Niger (with mean across first-level administrative units = 0.277 and standard deviation [SD] 0.114) to 0.755 in Albania (with mean across first-level administrative units = 0.603 and SD 0.089). There are improvements over time overall between the 2000s and 2010s, although this is not the case for all countries included in our study. In Cambodia, Malawi, and Nigeria, for instance, under-five survival improved over time at most levels of maternal education and wealth. In contrast, in the Philippines, we found relatively few changes in under-five survival across the development spectrum and over time. In these countries, the persistent location of geographical areas of poor child health across both the development spectrum and time may indicate within-country poverty traps. Limitations of our study include its descriptive nature, lack of information beyond first- and second-level administrative units, and limited generalizability beyond the countries analyzed. Conclusions This study maps patterns and trends in human capabilities and is among the first, to our knowledge, to introduce a child-based HDI at the national and subnational level. Areas of chronic deprivation may indicate within-country poverty traps and require alternative policy approaches to improving child health in low-resource settings.