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The Gini coefficient as a useful measure of malaria inequality among populations
Authors: Jonathan Abeles and David J. Conway
Source: Malaria Journal, Volume 19, Article number 444
Topic(s): Inequality
Country: More than one region
  Multiple Regions
Published: DEC 2020
Abstract: Background: Understanding inequality in infectious disease burden requires clear and unbiased indicators. The Gini coefficient, conventionally used as a macroeconomic descriptor of inequality, is potentially useful to quantify epidemiological heterogeneity. With a potential range from 0 (all populations equal) to 1 (populations having maximal differences), this coefficient is used here to show the extent and persistence of inequality of malaria infection burden at a wide variety of population levels. Methods: First, the Gini coefficient was applied to quantify variation among World Health Organization world regions for malaria and other major global health problems. Malaria heterogeneity was then measured among countries within the geographical sub-region where burden is greatest, among the major administrative divisions in several of these countries, and among selected local communities. Data were analysed from previous research studies, national surveys, and global reports, and Gini coefficients were calculated together with confidence intervals using bootstrap resampling methods. Results: Malaria showed a very high level of inequality among the world regions (Gini coefficient, G = 0.77, 95% CI 0.66–0.81), more extreme than for any of the other major global health problems compared at this level. Within the most highly endemic geographical sub-region, there was substantial inequality in estimated malaria incidence among countries of West Africa, which did not decrease between 2010 (G = 0.28, 95% CI 0.19–0.36) and 2018 (G = 0.31, 0.22–0.39). There was a high level of sub-national variation in prevalence among states within Nigeria (G = 0.30, 95% CI 0.26–0.35), contrasting with more moderate variation within Ghana (G = 0.18, 95% CI 0.12–0.25) and Sierra Leone (G = 0.17, 95% CI 0.12–0.22). There was also significant inequality in prevalence among local village communities, generally more marked during dry seasons when there was lower mean prevalence. The Gini coefficient correlated strongly with the standard coefficient of variation, which has no finite range. Conclusions: The Gini coefficient is a useful descriptor of epidemiological inequality at all population levels, with confidence intervals and interpretable bounds. Wider use of the coefficient would give broader understanding of malaria heterogeneity revealed by multiple types of studies, surveys and reports, providing more accessible insight from available data.