Leaving No Child Behind: Decomposing Socioeconomic Inequalities in Child Health for India and South Africa

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International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health

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Background: The United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development argues for the combating of health inequalities within and among countries, advocating for “leaving no one behind”. However, child mortality in developing countries is still high and mainly driven by lack of immunization, food insecurity and nutritional deficiency. The confounding problem is the existence of socioeconomic inequalities among the richest and poorest. Thus, comparing South Africa’s and India’s Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) of 2015/16, this study examines socioeconomic inequalities in under-five children’s health and its associated factors using three child health indications: full immunization coverage, food insecurity and malnutrition. Methods: Erreygers Normalized concentration indices were computed to show how immunization coverage, food insecurity and malnutrition in children varied across socioeconomic groups (household wealth). Concentration curves were plotted to show the cumulative share of immunization coverage, food insecurity and malnutrition against the cumulative share of children ranked from poorest to richest. Subsequent decomposition analysis identified vital factors underpinning the observed socioeconomic inequalities. Results: The results confirm a strong socioeconomic gradient in food security and malnutrition in India and South Africa. However, while full childhood immunization in South Africa was pro-poor (−0.0236), in India, it was pro-rich (0.1640). Decomposed results reported socioeconomic status, residence, mother’s education, and mother’s age as primary drivers of health inequalities in full immunization, food security and nutrition among children in both countries. Conclusions: The main drivers of the socioeconomic inequalities in both countries across the child health outcomes (full immunization, food insecurity and malnutrition) are socioeconomic status, residence, mother’s education, and mother’s age. In conclusion, if socioeconomic inequalities in children’s health especially food insecurity and malnutrition in South Africa; food insecurity, malnutrition and immunization in India are not addressed then definitely “some under-five children will be left behind”.