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Improved Reproductive Health Equity Between the Poor and the Rich: An Analysis of Trends in 46 Low- and Middle-Income Countries
Authors: John Ross
Source: Global Health: Science and Practice, published online September 7, 2015, doi: 10.9745/GHSP-D-15-00124
Topic(s): Health equity
Poverty
Reproductive health
Country: More than one region
  Multiple Regions
Published: SEP 2015
Abstract: While several indicators for reproductive health have improved for entire populations, few analyses are available for trends over time in the gaps between the poor and the rich. This paper tracks improvements in the equitable distribution of reproductive health indicators according to wealth quintiles, especially for contraceptive use, in 46 low- and middle-income countries based on national population-based surveys conducted between 1990 and 2013. It focuses on the gaps between the poorest and richest quintiles in the earliest and latest survey rounds across a number of reproductive health indicators related to family planning, fertility desires, antenatal care, and infant and child mortality, as well as on improvements in the absolute levels of contraceptive use by the poorest quintile. Gap changes were decomposed to show how the gaps can either diminish or grow due to either the bottom or top quintile, or both. In addition, bivariate correlation analysis was conducted to examine the relationship of the gaps, and of contraceptive use by the poor, to national family planning program efforts. Overall, the gaps between the poorest and richest have narrowed, due primarily to faster improvements among the poor than the rich. For example, the gap between the richest and poorest in the modern contraceptive prevalence rate has declined by 25%, from a 20.4 percentage point difference to a 15.4 point difference. And the gap has decreased more where family planning programs have been stronger. Across most of 18 other reproductive health indicators, the gaps have also been narrowing. For instance, the poor-rich gap for antenatal care decreased by over a third, from a difference of 30.7 percentage points to 19.6 percentage points. Gaps in infant and child mortality also have declined by about one-third. The pattern for contraceptive use in sub-Saharan Africa, however, has been mixed, with the gap actually increasing in some countries with strong programs. This disparity may largely reflect that family planning in the region is generally at an earlier stage in its history, and so programs may initially be reaching better-off clients, especially in urban areas. To promote additional equity, programs should emphasize efforts to increase access to voluntary family planning services to the least well-off, including those in rural and peri-urban areas.