Progress towards universal health coverage and inequalities in infant mortality: an analysis of 4·1 million births from 60 low-income and middle-income countries between 2000 and 2019

Thomas Hone, Judite Gonçalves, Paraskevi Seferidi, Rodrigo Moreno-Serra, Rudi Rocha, Indrani Gupta, Vinayak Bhardwaj, Taufik Hidayat, Chang Cai, Marc Suhrcke, Christopher Millett

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Background: Expanding universal health coverage (UHC) might not be inherently beneficial to poorer populations without the explicit targeting and prioritising of low-income populations. This study examines whether the expansion of UHC between 2000 and 2019 is associated with reduced socioeconomic inequalities in infant mortality in low-income and middle-income countries (LMICs). Methods: We did a retrospective analysis of birth data compiled from Demographic and Health Surveys (DHSs). We analysed all births between 2000 and 2019 from all DHSs available for this period. The primary outcome was infant mortality, defined as death within 1 year of birth. Logistic regression models with country and year fixed effects assessed associations between country-level progress to UHC (using WHO's UHC service coverage index) and infant mortality (overall and by wealth quintile), adjusting for infant-level, mother-level, and country-level variables. Findings: A total of 4 065 868 births to 1 833 011 mothers were analysed from 177 DHSs covering 60 LMICs between 2000 and 2019. A one unit increase in the UHC index was associated with a 1·2% reduction in the risk of infant death (AOR 0·988, 95% CI 0·981–0·995; absolute measure of association, 0·57 deaths per 1000 livebirths). An estimated 15·5 million infant deaths were averted between 2000 and 2019 because of increases in UHC. However, richer wealth quintiles had larger associated reductions in infant mortality from UHC (quintile 5 AOR 0·983, 95% CI 0·973–0·993) than poorer quintiles (quintile 1 0·991, 0·985–0·998). In the early stages of UHC, UHC expansion was generally beneficial to poorer populations (ie, larger reductions in infant mortality for poorer households [infant deaths per 1000 per one unit increase in UHC coverage: quintile 1 0·84 vs quintile 5 0·59]), but became less so as overall coverage increased (quintile 1 0·64 vs quintile 5 0·57). Interpretation: Since UHC expansion in LMICs appears to become less beneficial to poorer populations as coverage increases, UHC policies should be explicitly designed to ensure lower income groups continue to benefit as coverage expands. Funding: UK National Institute for Health and Care Research.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)e744-e755
JournalThe Lancet Global Health
Volume12
Issue number5
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - May 2024

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