Leave No Child Behind: Using Data from 1.7 Million Children from 67 Developing Countries to Measure Inequality Within and Between Groups of Births and to Identify Left Behind Populations
Background: Goal 3.2 from the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) calls for reductions in national averages of Under-5 Mortality. However, it is well known that within countries these reductions can coexist with left behind populations that have mortality rates higher than national averages. To measure inequality in under-5 mortality and to identify left behind populations, mortality rates are often disaggregated by socioeconomic status within countries. While socioeconomic disparities are important, this approach does not quantify within group variability since births from the same socioeconomic group may have different mortality risks. This is the case because mortality risk depends on several risk factors and their interactions and births from the same socioeconomic group may have different risk factor combinations. Therefore mortality risk can be highly variable within socioeconomic groups. We develop a comprehensive approach using information from multiple risk factors simultaneously to measure inequality in mortality and to identify left behind populations.
Methods: We use Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) data on 1,691,039 births from 182 different surveys from 67 low and middle income countries, 51 of which had at least two surveys. We estimate mortality risk for each child in the data using a Bayesian hierarchical logistic regression model. We include commonly used risk factors for monitoring inequality in early life mortality for the SDG as well as their interactions. We quantify variability in mortality risk within and between socioeconomic groups and describe the highest risk sub-populations.
Findings: For all countries there is more variability in mortality within socioeconomic groups than between them. Within countries, socioeconomic membership usually explains less than 20% of the total variation in mortality risk. In contrast, 2 country of birth explains 19% of the total variance in mortality risk. Targeting the 20% highest risk children based on our model better identies under-5 deaths than targeting the 20% poorest. For all surveys, we report effciency gains from 26% in Mali to 578% in Guyana. High risk births tend to be births from mothers who are in the lowest socioeconomic group, live in rural areas and/or have already experienced a prior death of a child.
Interpretation: While important, dierences in under-5 mortality across socioeconomic groups do not explain most of overall inequality in mortality risk because births from the same socioeconomic groups have dierent mortality risks. Similarly, policy makers can reach the highest risk children by targeting births based on several risk factors (socioeconomic status, residing in rural areas, having a previous death of a child and more) instead of using a single risk factor such as socioeconomic status. We suggest that researchers and policy makers monitor inequality in under-5 mortality using multiple risk factors simultaneously, quantifying inequality as a function of several risk factors to identify left behind populations in need of policy interventions and to help monitor progress toward the SDG.