Inequalities in public health care delivery in Zambia

Jane Phiri, John E Ataguba
International Journal for Equity in Health 2014, 13: 24

BACKGROUND: Access to adequate health services that is of acceptable quality is important in the move towards universal health coverage. However, previous studies have revealed inequities in health care utilisation in the favour of the rich. Further, those with the greatest need for health services are not getting a fair share. In Zambia, though equity in access is extolled in government documents, there is evidence suggesting that those needing health services are not receiving their fair share. This study seeks therefore, to assess if socioeconomic related inequalities/inequities in public health service utilisation in Zambia still persist.

METHODS: The 2010 nationally representative Zambia Living Conditions and Monitoring Survey data are used. Inequality is assessed using concentration curves and concentrations indices while inequity is assessed using a horizontal equity index: an index of inequity across socioeconomic status groups, based on standardizing health service utilisation for health care need. Public health services considered include public health post visits, public clinic visits, public hospital visits and total public facility visits.

RESULTS: There is evidence of pro-poor inequality in public primary health care utilisation but a pro-rich inequality in hospital visits. The concentration indices for public health post visits and public clinic visits are -0.28 and -0.09 respectively while that of public hospitals is 0.06. After controlling for need, the pro-poor distribution is maintained at primary facilities and with a pro-rich distribution at hospitals. The horizontal equity indices for health post and clinic are estimated at -0.23 and -0.04 respectively while that of public hospitals is estimated at 0.11. A pro-rich inequity is observed when all the public facilities are combined (horizontal equity index = 0.01) though statistically insignificant.

CONCLUSION: The results of the paper point to areas of focus in ensuring equitable access to health services especially for the poor and needy. This includes strengthening primary facilities that serve the poor and reducing access barriers to ensure that health care utilisation at higher-level facilities is distributed in accordance with need for it. These initiatives may well reduce the observed inequities and accelerate the move towards universal health coverage in Zambia.

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