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1.  Professional Uncertainty and Disempowerment Responding to Ethnic Diversity in Health Care: A Qualitative Study 
PLoS Medicine  2007;4(11):e323.
Background
While ethnic disparities in health and health care are increasing, evidence on how to enhance quality of care and reduce inequalities remains limited. Despite growth in the scope and application of guidelines on “cultural competence,” remarkably little is known about how practising health professionals experience and perceive their work with patients from diverse ethnic communities. Using cancer care as a clinical context, we aimed to explore this with a range of health professionals to inform interventions to enhance quality of care.
Methods and Findings
We conducted a qualitative study involving 18 focus groups with a purposeful sample of 106 health professionals of differing disciplines, in primary and secondary care settings, working with patient populations of varying ethnic diversity in the Midlands of the UK. Data were analysed by constant comparison and we undertook processes for validation of analysis. We found that, as they sought to offer appropriate care, health professionals wrestled with considerable uncertainty and apprehension in responding to the needs of patients of ethnicities different from their own. They emphasised their perceived ignorance about cultural difference and were anxious about being culturally inappropriate, causing affront, or appearing discriminatory or racist. Professionals' ability to think and act flexibly or creatively faltered. Although trying to do their best, professionals' uncertainty was disempowering, creating a disabling hesitancy and inertia in their practice. Most professionals sought and applied a knowledge-based cultural expertise approach to patients, though some identified the risk of engendering stereotypical expectations of patients. Professionals' uncertainty and disempowerment had the potential to perpetuate each other, to the detriment of patient care.
Conclusions
This study suggests potential mechanisms by which health professionals may inadvertently contribute to ethnic disparities in health care. It identifies critical opportunities to empower health professionals to respond more effectively. Interventions should help professionals acknowledge their uncertainty and its potential to create inertia in their practice. A shift away from a cultural expertise model toward a greater focus on each patient as an individual may help.
From a qualitative study, Joe Kai and colleagues have identified opportunities to empower health professionals to respond more effectively to challenges in their work with patients from diverse ethnic communities.
Editors' Summary
Background.
Communities are increasingly diverse in terms of ethnicity (belonging to a group of people defined by social characteristics such as cultural tradition or national origin) and race (belonging to a group identified by inherited physical characteristics). Although health professionals and governments are striving to ensure that everybody has the same access to health care, there is increasing evidence of ethnic inequalities in health-care outcomes. Some of these inequalities reflect intrinsic differences between groups of people—Ashkenazi Jews, for example, often carry an altered gene that increases their chance of developing aggressive breast cancer. Often, however, these differences reflect inequalities in the health care received by different ethnic groups. To improve this situation, “cultural competence” has been promoted over recent years. Cultural competence is the development of skills by individuals and organizations that allow them to work effectively with people from different cultures. Health professionals are now taught about ethnic differences in health beliefs and practices, religion, and communication styles to help them provide the best service to all their patients.
Why Was This Study Done?
Numerous guidelines aim to improve cultural competency but little is known about how health professionals experience and perceive their work with patients from diverse ethnic groups. Is their behavior influenced by ethnicity in ways that might contribute to health care disparities? For example, do doctors sometimes avoid medical examinations for fear of causing offence because of cultural differences? If more were known about how health professionals handle ethnic diversity (a term used here to include both ethnicity and race) it might be possible to reduce ethnic inequalities in health care. In this qualitative study, the researchers have explored how health professionals involved in cancer care are affected by working with ethnically diverse patients. A qualitative study is one that collects nonquantitative data such as how doctors “feel” about treating people of different ethnic backgrounds; a quantitative study might compare clinical outcomes in different ethnic groups.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers enrolled 106 doctors, nurses, and other health-related professionals from different health-service settings in the Midlands, an ethnically diverse region of the UK. They organized 18 focus groups in which the health professionals described their experiences of caring for people from ethnic minority backgrounds. The participants were encouraged to recall actual cases and to identify what they saw as problems and strengths in their interactions with these patients. The researchers found that the health professionals wrestled with many challenges when providing health care for patients from diverse ethnic backgrounds. These challenges included problems with language and with general communication (for example, deciding when it was acceptable to touch a patient to show empathy). Health professionals also worried they did not know enough about cultural differences. As a result, they said they often felt uncertain of their ability to avoid causing affront or appearing racist. This uncertainty, the researchers report, disempowered the health professionals, sometimes making them hesitate or fail to do what was best for their patient.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings reveal that health professionals often experience considerable uncertainty when caring for ethnically diverse patients, even after training in cultural competency. They also show that this uncertainty can lead to hesitancy and inertia, which might contribute to ethnic health care inequalities. Because the study participants were probably already interested in ethnic diversity and health care, interviews with other health professionals (and investigations of patient experiences) are needed to confirm these findings. Nevertheless, the researchers suggest several interventions that might reduce health care inequalities caused by ethnic diversity. For example, health professionals should be encouraged to recognize their uncertainty and should have access to more information and training about ethnic differences. In addition, there should be a shift in emphasis away from relying on knowledge-based cultural information towards taking an “ethnographic” approach. In other words, health professionals should be helped to feel able to ask their patients about what matters most to them as individuals about their illness and treatment.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.0040323.
Information on cultural competence and health care is available from the US National Center for Cultural Competence (in English and Spanish) and DiversityRx
PROCEED (Professionals Responding to Cancer in Ethnic Diversity) is a multimedia training tool for educators within the health and allied professions developed from the results of this study; a press release on PROCEED is available from the University of Nottingham
Transcultural Health Care Practice: An educational resource for nurses and health care practitioners is available on the web site of the UK Royal College of Nursing
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0040323
PMCID: PMC2071935  PMID: 18001148
2.  Inequalities in public health care delivery in Zambia 
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.
doi:10.1186/1475-9276-13-24
PMCID: PMC4000893  PMID: 24645826
Health inequality; Health inequity; Public health care; Zambia
3.  Increasing Coverage and Decreasing Inequity in Insecticide-Treated Bed Net Use among Rural Kenyan Children 
PLoS Medicine  2007;4(8):e255.
Background
Inexpensive and efficacious interventions that avert childhood deaths in sub-Saharan Africa have failed to reach effective coverage, especially among the poorest rural sectors. One particular example is insecticide-treated bed nets (ITNs). In this study, we present repeat observations of ITN coverage among rural Kenyan homesteads exposed at different times to a range of delivery models, and assess changes in coverage across socioeconomic groups.
Methods and Findings
We undertook a study of annual changes in ITN coverage among a cohort of 3,700 children aged 0–4 y in four districts of Kenya (Bondo, Greater Kisii, Kwale, and Makueni) annually between 2004 and 2006. Cross-sectional surveys of ITN coverage were undertaken coincidentally with the incremental availability of commercial sector nets (2004), the introduction of heavily subsidized nets through clinics (2005), and the introduction of free mass distributed ITNs (2006). The changing prevalence of ITN coverage was examined with special reference to the degree of equity in each delivery approach. ITN coverage was only 7.1% in 2004 when the predominant source of nets was the commercial retail sector. By the end of 2005, following the expansion of heavily subsidized clinic distribution system, ITN coverage rose to 23.5%. In 2006 a large-scale mass distribution of ITNs was mounted providing nets free of charge to children, resulting in a dramatic increase in ITN coverage to 67.3%. With each subsequent survey socioeconomic inequity in net coverage sequentially decreased: 2004 (most poor [2.9%] versus least poor [15.6%]; concentration index 0.281); 2005 (most poor [17.5%] versus least poor [37.9%]; concentration index 0.131), and 2006 with near-perfect equality (most poor [66.3%] versus least poor [66.6%]; concentration index 0.000). The free mass distribution method achieved highest coverage among the poorest children, the highly subsidised clinic nets programme was marginally in favour of the least poor, and the commercial social marketing favoured the least poor.
Conclusions
Rapid scaling up of ITN coverage among Africa's poorest rural children can be achieved through mass distribution campaigns. These efforts must form an important adjunct to regular, routine access to ITNs through clinics, and each complimentary approach should aim to make this intervention free to clients to ensure equitable access among those least able to afford even the cost of a heavily subsidized net.
Noor and colleagues found low levels of use of insecticide-treated mosquito nets when nets were mainly available through the commercial sector. Levels increased when subsidized nets were introduced and rose further when they were made available free.
Editors' Summary
Background.
Malaria is one of the world's most important killer diseases. There are over a million deaths from malaria every year, most of those who die are children in Africa. Frequent attacks of the disease have severe consequences for the health of many millions more. The parasite that causes malaria is spread by bites from certain species of mosquito. They mostly bite during the hours of darkness, so sleeping under a mosquito net provides some protection. In some countries where malaria is a problem, bed nets are already used by many people. A very much higher level of protection is obtained, however, by sleeping under a mosquito net that has been impregnated with insecticide. The insecticides used are of extremely low toxicity for humans. As insecticide-treated nets (ITNs) are a relatively new idea, people do need to be persuaded to buy and use them. ITNs must also be re-impregnated regularly, although long-lasting ones that remain effective for 3–5 y (or 21 washes) are now widely distributed. The nets are inexpensive by Western standards but the people who are most at risk of malaria have very little income. Governments and health agencies are keen to increase the use of nets, particularly for children and pregnant women. The main approach used has been that of “social marketing.” In other words, advertising campaigns promote the use of nets, and their local manufacture is encouraged. The nets are then sold on the open market, sometimes with government subsidies. This approach has been very controversial. Many people have argued that ways must be found to make nets available free to all who need them, but others believe that this is not necessary and that high rates of ITN use can be brought about by social marketing alone.
Why Was This Study Done?
It has been known for more than ten years that ITNs are very effective in reducing cases of malaria, but there is still a long way to go before every child at risk sleeps under an ITN. In Kenya, a country where malaria is very common, a program to increase net use began in 2002, using the social marketing approach. In 2004 most of the nets available in Kenya were those on sale commercially. In October 2004 health clinics started to distribute more heavily subsidized ITNs for children and pregnant women and, in 2006, a mass distribution program began of free nets for children. The researchers, based at the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI), wanted to find whether the number of children sleeping under ITNs changed as a result of these changes in policy. They also wanted to see how the rate of net use varied between families of different socioeconomic levels, as the poorest children are known to be most likely to die from malaria.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
This is a large study involving 3,700 children in four districts of Kenya. The researchers conducted surveys and then calculated the rates of net use in 2004, 2005, and 2006. In the first survey, when nets were available to most people only through the commercial sector, only 7% of children were sleeping under ITNs, with a very big difference between the poorest families (3%) and the least poor (16%). By the end of 2005, the year in which subsidized nets became increasingly available in clinics, the overall rate of use rose to 24%. By the end of 2006, following the free distribution campaign, it was 66%. The 2006 figure was almost exactly the same for the poorest and least poor families.
What Do These Findings Mean?
The rate of net use in the districts in the survey is much higher than expected, even though one-third of children were still not protected by ITNs. The sharp increases—particularly among the poorest children—after heavily subsidized nets were introduced and then after the free mass distribution suggests that this is a very good use of the limited amount of funds available for health care in Kenya and other countries where malaria is common. If fewer Kenyan children have malaria there will be cost savings to the health services. While some might claim that it is obvious that nets will be more widely used if they are free, there has been heated debate as to whether this is really true. Evidence has been needed and this research now provides strong support for free distribution. The study has also identified other factors which will be important in the continuing efforts to increase ITN use.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.0040255.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provide information on malaria and on insecticide-treated nets (in English and Spanish)
The MedlinePlus encyclopedia contains a page on malaria (in English and Spanish). MedlinePlus brings together authoritative information from the US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, and other government agencies and health-related organizations
Information is available from the World Health Organization on malaria (in English, Spanish, French, Russian, Arabic, and Chinese) and from the Roll Back Malaria Partnership on the use of insecticide-treated nets
For information about the Medical Research Institute see the organization's Web site
The BBC Web site has a “country profile” about Kenya
Malaria data and related publications can be found on the Malaria Atlas Project Web site, which is funded by the Wellcome Trust, UK and is a joint project between the Malaria Public Health & Epidemiology Group, Centre for Geographic Medicine, Kenya and the Spatial Ecology & Epidemiology Group, University of Oxford, UK
The Kenya Ministry of Health, Division of Malaria Control Web site has useful information on malaria epidemiology and policies for Kenya
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0040255
PMCID: PMC1949846  PMID: 17713981
4.  Geographical Inequalities in Use of Improved Drinking Water Supply and Sanitation across Sub-Saharan Africa: Mapping and Spatial Analysis of Cross-sectional Survey Data 
PLoS Medicine  2014;11(4):e1001626.
Using cross-sectional survey data, Rachel Pullan and colleagues map geographical inequalities in use of improved drinking water supply and sanitation across sub-Saharan Africa.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Background
Understanding geographic inequalities in coverage of drinking-water supply and sanitation (WSS) will help track progress towards universal coverage of water and sanitation by identifying marginalized populations, thus helping to control a large number of infectious diseases. This paper uses household survey data to develop comprehensive maps of WSS coverage at high spatial resolution for sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). Analysis is extended to investigate geographic heterogeneity and relative geographic inequality within countries.
Methods and Findings
Cluster-level data on household reported use of improved drinking-water supply, sanitation, and open defecation were abstracted from 138 national surveys undertaken from 1991–2012 in 41 countries. Spatially explicit logistic regression models were developed and fitted within a Bayesian framework, and used to predict coverage at the second administrative level (admin2, e.g., district) across SSA for 2012. Results reveal substantial geographical inequalities in predicted use of water and sanitation that exceed urban-rural disparities. The average range in coverage seen between admin2 within countries was 55% for improved drinking water, 54% for use of improved sanitation, and 59% for dependence upon open defecation. There was also some evidence that countries with higher levels of inequality relative to coverage in use of an improved drinking-water source also experienced higher levels of inequality in use of improved sanitation (rural populations r = 0.47, p = 0.002; urban populations r = 0.39, p = 0.01). Results are limited by the quantity of WSS data available, which varies considerably by country, and by the reliability and utility of available indicators.
Conclusions
This study identifies important geographic inequalities in use of WSS previously hidden within national statistics, confirming the necessity for targeted policies and metrics that reach the most marginalized populations. The presented maps and analysis approach can provide a mechanism for monitoring future reductions in inequality within countries, reflecting priorities of the post-2015 development agenda.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Access to a safe drinking-water supply (a water source that is protected from contamination) and to adequate sanitation facilities (toilets, improved latrines, and other facilities that prevent people coming into contact with human urine and feces) is essential for good health. Unimproved drinking-water sources and sanitation are responsible for 85% of deaths from diarrhea and 1% of the global burden of disease. They also increase the transmission of parasitic worms and other neglected tropical diseases. In 2000, world leaders set a target of reducing the proportion of the global population without access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation to half of the 1990 level by 2015 as part of Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 7 (“Ensure environmental sustainability”; the MDGs are designed to improve the social, economic, and health conditions in the world's poorest countries). Between 1990 and 2010, more than 2 billion people gained access to improved drinking-water sources and 1.8 billion gained access to improved sanitation. In 2011, 89% of the world's population had access to an improved drinking-water supply, 1% above the MDG target, and 64% had access to improved sanitation (the MDG target is 75%).
Why Was This Study Done?
Despite these encouraging figures, the WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply and Sanitation (JMP) estimates that, globally, 768 million people relied on unimproved drinking-water sources, 2.5 billion people did not use an improved sanitation facility, and more than 1 billion people (15% of the global population) were defecating in the open in 2011. The JMP estimates for 2011 also reveal national and sub-national inequalities in drinking-water supply and sanitation coverage but a better understanding of geographic inequalities is needed to track progress towards universal coverage of access to improved water and sanitation and to identify the populations that need the most help to achieve this goal. Here, the researchers use cross-sectional household survey data and modern statistical approaches to produce a comprehensive map of the coverage of improved drinking-water supply and improved sanitation at high spatial resolution for sub-Saharan Africa and to investigate geographic inequalities in coverage. Cross-sectional household surveys collect health and other information from households at a single time-point, including data on use of safe water and improved sanitation.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers extracted data on reported household use of an improved drinking-water supply (for example, a piped water supply), improved sanitation facilities (for example, a flushing toilet), and open defecation from 138 national household surveys undertaken between 1991 and 2012 in 41 countries in sub-Saharan Africa. They developed statistical models to fit these data and used the models to estimate coverage at the district (second administrative) level across sub-Saharan Africa for 2012. For ten countries, the estimated coverage of access to improved drinking water at the district level within individual countries ranged from less than 25% to more than 75%. Within-country ranges of a similar magnitude were estimated for coverage of access to improved sanitation (21 countries) and for open defecation (16 countries). Notably, rural households in the districts with the lowest coverage of access to improved water supply and sanitation within a country were 1.5–8 times less likely to access improved drinking water, 2–18 times less likely to access improved sanitation, and 2–80 times more likely to defecate in the open than rural households in districts with the best coverage. Finally, countries with high levels of inequality in improved drinking-water source coverage also experienced high levels of inequality in improved sanitation coverage.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings identify important geographic inequalities in the coverage of access to improved water sources and sanitation that were previously hidden within national statistics. The accuracy of these findings depends on the accuracy of the data on water supplies and sanitation provided by household surveys, on the researchers' definitions for improved water supplies and sanitation, and on their statistical methods. Nevertheless, these findings confirm that, to achieve universal coverage of access to improved drinking-water sources and sanitation, strategies that target the areas with the lowest coverage are essential. Moreover, the maps and the analytical approach presented here provide the means for monitoring future reductions in inequalities in the coverage of access to improved water sources and sanitation and thus reflect a major priority of the post-2015 development agenda.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001626.
A PLOS Medicine Collection on water and sanitation is available
The World Health Organization (WHO) provides information on water, sanitation, and health (in several languages)
The WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply and Sanitation is the official United Nations mechanism tasked with monitoring progress toward MDG7, Target 7B; the JMP 2013 update report is available online (also available in French and Spanish through the JMP website)
The sub-national predictions resulting from this study and the final sub-national maps are available as a resource for researchers and planners
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001626
PMCID: PMC3979660  PMID: 24714528
5.  Global Estimates of Syphilis in Pregnancy and Associated Adverse Outcomes: Analysis of Multinational Antenatal Surveillance Data 
PLoS Medicine  2013;10(2):e1001396.
Using multinational surveillance data, Lori Newman and colleagues estimate global rates of active syphilis in pregnant women, adverse effects, and antenatal coverage and treatment needed to meet WHO goals.
Background
The World Health Organization initiative to eliminate mother-to-child transmission of syphilis aims for ≥90% of pregnant women to be tested for syphilis and ≥90% to receive treatment by 2015. We calculated global and regional estimates of syphilis in pregnancy and associated adverse outcomes for 2008, as well as antenatal care (ANC) coverage for women with syphilis.
Methods and Findings
Estimates were based upon a health service delivery model. National syphilis seropositivity data from 97 of 193 countries and ANC coverage from 147 countries were obtained from World Health Organization databases. Proportions of adverse outcomes and effectiveness of screening and treatment were from published literature. Regional estimates of ANC syphilis testing and treatment were examined through sensitivity analysis. In 2008, approximately 1.36 million (range: 1.16 to 1.56 million) pregnant women globally were estimated to have probable active syphilis; of these, 80% had attended ANC. Globally, 520,905 (best case: 425,847; worst case: 615,963) adverse outcomes were estimated to be caused by maternal syphilis, including approximately 212,327 (174,938; 249,716) stillbirths (>28 wk) or early fetal deaths (22 to 28 wk), 91,764 (76,141; 107,397) neonatal deaths, 65,267 (56,929; 73,605) preterm or low birth weight infants, and 151,547 (117,848; 185,245) infected newborns. Approximately 66% of adverse outcomes occurred in ANC attendees who were not tested or were not treated for syphilis. In 2008, based on the middle case scenario, clinical services likely averted 26% of all adverse outcomes. Limitations include missing syphilis seropositivity data for many countries in Europe, the Mediterranean, and North America, and use of estimates for the proportion of syphilis that was “probable active,” and for testing and treatment coverage.
Conclusions
Syphilis continues to affect large numbers of pregnant women, causing substantial perinatal morbidity and mortality that could be prevented by early testing and treatment. In this analysis, most adverse outcomes occurred among women who attended ANC but were not tested or treated for syphilis, highlighting the need to improve the quality of ANC as well as ANC coverage. In addition, improved ANC data on syphilis testing coverage, positivity, and treatment are needed.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Syphilis—a sexually transmitted bacterial infection caused by Treponema pallidum—can pass from a mother who is infected to her unborn child. Screening pregnant women for syphilis during routine antenatal care by looking for a reaction to T. pallidum in the blood (seropositivity) and then treating any detected infections with penicillin injections has been feasible for many years, even in low-resource settings. However, because coverage of testing and treatment of syphilis remains low in many countries, mother-to-child transmission of syphilis—“congenital syphilis”—is still a global public health problem. In 2007, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that there were 2 million syphilis infections among pregnant women annually, 65% of which resulted in adverse pregnancy outcomes: the baby's death during early or late pregnancy (fetal death and stillbirth, respectively) or soon after birth (neonatal death), or the birth of an infected baby. Babies born with syphilis often have a low birth weight and develop problems such as blindness, deafness, and seizures if not treated.
Why Was This Study Done?
In 2007, WHO launched an initiative to eliminate congenital syphilis that set targets of at least 90% of pregnant women being tested for syphilis and at least 90% of seropositive pregnant women receiving adequate treatment by 2015. To assess the initiative's progress and to guide policy and advocacy efforts, accurate global data on the burden of syphilis in pregnancy and on associated adverse outcomes are needed. Unfortunately, even in developed countries with good laboratory facilities, definitive diagnosis of congenital syphilis is difficult. Estimates of the global burden can be obtained, however, using mathematical models. In this study, the researchers generate global and regional estimates of the burden of syphilis in pregnancy and associated adverse outcomes for 2008 using a health services delivery model.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers developed a mathematical model to estimate the number of syphilis-infected pregnant women in each country and in each region, and to estimate the regional and global numbers of adverse pregnancy outcomes associated with syphilis. They used national syphilis seropositivity data and information on antenatal care coverage from WHO and estimates of the effectiveness of screening and treatment from published literature. Using these data and their model, the researchers estimated that, in 2008, 1.4 million pregnant women, 80% of whom had attended antenatal care services, had an active syphilis infection. Assuming a scenario in which the percentage of pregnant women tested for syphilis and adequately treated ranged from 30% for Africa and the Mediterranean region to 70% for Europe (a scenario defined in consultation with WHO advisors), the researchers estimated that maternal syphilis caused 520,000 adverse outcomes in 2008, including 215,000 stillbirths or fetal deaths, 90,000 neonatal deaths, 65,000 preterm or low birth weight infants, and 150,000 infants with congenital disease. About 66% of these adverse effects occurred in women who had attended antenatal care but were either not tested or not treated for syphilis. Finally, the researchers estimated that in 2008, clinical services averted 26% of all adverse outcomes.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings, which update and extend previous estimates of the global burden of congenital syphilis, indicate that syphilis continues to affect a large number of pregnant women and their offspring. The current findings, which cannot be directly compared to previous estimates because of the different methodologies used, are likely to be affected by the accuracy of the data fed into the researchers' model. In particular, the data on the percentage of the population infected with syphilis in individual countries used in this study came from the HIV Universal Access reporting system and may not be nationally representative. Nevertheless, these findings suggest that syphilis continues to be an important cause of adverse outcomes of pregnancy, partly because pregnant women often do not receive syphilis screening and prompt treatment during routine antenatal care. The researchers recommend, therefore, that all countries should ensure that all pregnant women receive an essential package of high-quality antenatal care services that includes routine and easy access to syphilis testing and treatment. Congenital syphilis, they conclude, can only be eliminated if decision-makers at all levels prioritize the provision, quality, and monitoring of this basic antenatal care service, which has the potential to reduce infant mortality and improve maternal health.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001396.
The World Health Organization provides information on sexually transmitted diseases, including details of its strategy for the global elimination of congenital syphilis, the investment case for the elimination of mother-to-child transmission of syphilis, and regional updates on progress towards elimination (some information is available in several languages)
The Pan American Health Organization provides information on efforts to eliminate congenital syphilis in Latin America (in English and Spanish), and the Asia-Pacific Prevention of Parent-to-Child Transmission Task Force provides information on efforts to eliminate congenital syphilis in Asia Pacific
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a fact sheet on syphilis (in English and Spanish)
The UK National Health Service Choices website also has a page on syphilis
MedlinePlus provides information on congenital syphilis and links to additional syphilis resources (in English and Spanish)
The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine provides a toolkit for the introduction of rapid syphilis tests
Haiti: Congenital Syphilis on the Way Out is a YouTube video describing the introduction of rapid diagnostic tests for syphilis in remote parts of Haiti
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001396
PMCID: PMC3582608  PMID: 23468598
6.  Exploring inequities in skilled care at birth among migrant population in a metropolitan city Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; a qualitative study 
Introduction
Ethiopia records high levels of inequity in skilled birth care (SBC), where the gaps are much wider among urban migrant women. An intervention project has been conducted in Addis Ababa, intending to improve quality and to ensure equitable access to maternal and newborn care services. As part of the project, this study explored the inequities in maternal health care among migrant women in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Methods
A qualitative community based study was conducted from April to May 2014 among 45 purposefully selected internal migrant women. Eleven women who give birth at home and eight who gave birth at health facility in the last year preceding the study participated in in-depth interviews. Four primiparas’ young women, 18 women who have children and four grandmothers participated in focus group discussions. Guides were used for data collection. Using framework and content analysis three themes and four sub-themes emerged.
Results
According to the informants, patterns of service utilization varied widely. Antenatal care and infant immunization were fairly equally accessed across the different age groups of informants in their most recent birth irrespective of where they gave birth, yet obvious access gaps were reported in SBC and postpartum care. There were missed opportunities to postpartum care. Only few women had received postpartum care despite, some of the women delivering in the health facility and many visiting the health facilities for infant immunization. The four emerged sub-themes reportedly influencing access and utilization of SBC were social influences, physical access to health facility, risk perceptions and perceived quality of care and disrespect. Of these social, structural and health system factors, informants presented experiences of disrespectful care as a powerful deterrent to SBC.
Conclusions
Migrant women constitute disadvantaged communities in Addis Ababa and have unequal access to SBC and postpartum care. This happens in the backdrop of fairly equitable access to antenatal care, infant immunization, universal health coverage and free access to maternal and newborn care. Addressing the underlying determinants for the inequities and bridging the quality gaps in maternal and newborn services with due emphasis on respectful care for migrant women need tailored intervention and prioritization.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/s12939-014-0110-6) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
doi:10.1186/s12939-014-0110-6
PMCID: PMC4246478  PMID: 25421142
Addis Ababa; Access; Antenatal; Disrespectful care; Equity; Ethiopia; Home birth; Missed opportunities; Postpartum care; Quality care; Skilled birth care; Utilization
7.  Trends in the coverage of ‘universal’ child health reviews: observational study using routinely available data 
BMJ Open  2012;2(2):e000759.
Objectives
Universally offered child health reviews form the backbone of the UK child health programme. The reviews assess children's health, development and well-being and facilitate access to additional support as required. The number of reviews offered per child has been reduced over recent years to allow more flexible provision of support to families in need: equitable coverage of the remaining reviews is therefore particularly important. This study assessed the coverage of universal child health reviews, with an emphasis on trends over time and inequalities in coverage by deprivation.
Design
Assessment of the coverage of child health reviews by area-based deprivation using routinely available data. Supplementary audit of the quality of the routine data source used.
Setting
Scotland.
Participants
Two cohorts of around 40 000 children each. The cohorts were born in 1998/1999 and 2007/2008 and eligible for the previous programme of five and the current programme of two preschool reviews, respectively.
Outcome measures
Coverage of the specified child health reviews for the whole cohorts and by deprivation.
Results
Coverage of the 10 day review is high (99%), but it progressively declines for reviews at older ages (86% for the 39–42 month review). Coverage is lower in children living in the most deprived areas for all reviews, and the discrepancy progressively increases for reviews at older ages (78% and 92% coverage for the 39–42 month review in most and least deprived groups). Coverage has been stable over time: it has not increased for the remaining reviews after reduction in the number of reviews provided.
Conclusions
The inverse care law continues to operate in relation to ‘universal’ child health reviews. Equitable uptake of reviews is important to ensure maximum likely impact on inequalities in children's outcomes.
Article summary
Article focus
A series of universally offered child health reviews providing assessment of children's health, development and well-being forms the backbone of the UK child health programme.
The number of reviews offered per child has been reduced over recent years to increase capacity to provide effective individualised support to families in need: equitable coverage of the remaining reviews is therefore particularly important.
We used routinely available data to assess the coverage of the various child health reviews (overall and by deprivation) before and after the change in the number of reviews offered.
Key messages
Coverage of reviews offered in early infancy is high, but it progressively declines for reviews at older ages (around 99% coverage for the 10 day review and 86% for the 39–42 month review).
Coverage is lower in the most deprived groups for all reviews, and the discrepancy progressively increases for reviews at older ages (78% and 92% coverage for the 39–42 month review in most and least deprived groups).
Coverage has not changed for the remaining reviews after reduction in the number of reviews offered: the inverse care law continues to operate in relation to provision of ‘universal’ child health reviews.
Strengths and limitations of this study
To our knowledge, no quantitative assessment of the coverage of child health reviews offered in the UK has previously been published.
This analysis involved large numbers of children: over 80 000 children eligible to receive their child health reviews in Scotland were included.
Careful consideration must be given to data quality when analysing routinely available data: we conducted an audit of data quality to allow the uncertainty in the results to be quantified.
doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2011-000759
PMCID: PMC3317139  PMID: 22457481
8.  Access To Essential Maternal Health Interventions and Human Rights Violations among Vulnerable Communities in Eastern Burma 
PLoS Medicine  2008;5(12):e242.
Background
Health indicators are poor and human rights violations are widespread in eastern Burma. Reproductive and maternal health indicators have not been measured in this setting but are necessary as part of an evaluation of a multi-ethnic pilot project exploring strategies to increase access to essential maternal health interventions. The goal of this study is to estimate coverage of maternal health services prior to this project and associations between exposure to human rights violations and access to such services.
Methods and Findings
Selected communities in the Shan, Mon, Karen, and Karenni regions of eastern Burma that were accessible to community-based organizations operating from Thailand were surveyed to estimate coverage of reproductive, maternal, and family planning services, and to assess exposure to household-level human rights violations within the pilot-project target population. Two-stage cluster sampling surveys among ever-married women of reproductive age (15–45 y) documented access to essential antenatal care interventions, skilled attendance at birth, postnatal care, and family planning services. Mid-upper arm circumference, hemoglobin by color scale, and Plasmodium falciparum parasitemia by rapid diagnostic dipstick were measured. Exposure to human rights violations in the prior 12 mo was recorded. Between September 2006 and January 2007, 2,914 surveys were conducted. Eighty-eight percent of women reported a home delivery for their last pregnancy (within previous 5 y). Skilled attendance at birth (5.1%), any (39.3%) or ≥ 4 (16.7%) antenatal visits, use of an insecticide-treated bed net (21.6%), and receipt of iron supplements (11.8%) were low. At the time of the survey, more than 60% of women had hemoglobin level estimates ≤ 11.0 g/dl and 7.2% were Pf positive. Unmet need for contraceptives exceeded 60%. Violations of rights were widely reported: 32.1% of Karenni households reported forced labor and 10% of Karen households had been forced to move. Among Karen households, odds of anemia were 1.51 (95% confidence interval [CI] 0.95–2.40) times higher among women reporting forced displacement, and 7.47 (95% CI 2.21–25.3) higher among those exposed to food security violations. The odds of receiving no antenatal care services were 5.94 (95% CI 2.23–15.8) times higher among those forcibly displaced.
Conclusions
Coverage of basic maternal health interventions is woefully inadequate in these selected populations and substantially lower than even the national estimates for Burma, among the lowest in the region. Considerable political, financial, and human resources are necessary to improve access to maternal health care in these communities.
Luke Mullany and colleagues examine access to essential maternal health interventions and human rights violations within vulnerable communities in eastern Burma.
Editors' Summary
Background.
After decades of military rule, Burma has one of the world's worst health-care systems and high levels of ill health. For example, maternal mortality (deaths among women from pregnancy-related causes) is around 360 per 100,000 live births in Burma, whereas in neighboring Thailand it is only 44 per 100,000 live births. Maternal health is even worse in the Shan, Karenni, Karen and Mon states in eastern Burma where ethnic conflicts and enforced village relocations have internally displaced more than half a million people. Here, maternal mortality is thought to be about 1000 per 100, 000 live births. In an effort to improve access to life-saving maternal health interventions in these states, Burmese community-based health organizations, the Johns Hopkins Center for Public Health and Human Rights and the Global Health Access Program in the USA, and the Mae Tao Clinic (a health-worker training center in Thailand) recently set up the Mobile Obstetric Maternal Health Workers (MOM) Project. In this pilot project, local health workers from 12 communities in eastern Burma received training in antenatal care, emergency obstetrics (the care of women during childbirth), blood transfusion, and family planning at the Mae Tao Clinic. Back in Burma, these maternal health workers trained additional local health workers and traditional birth attendants. All these individuals now provide maternal health care to their communities.
Why Was This Study Done?
The effectiveness of the MOM project can only be evaluated if accurate baseline information on women's access to maternal health-care services is available. This information is also needed to ensure the wise use of scarce health-care resources. However, very little is known about reproductive and maternal health in eastern Burma. In this study, the researchers analyze the information on women's access to reproductive and maternal health-care services that was collected during the initial field implementation stage of the MOM project. In addition, they analyze whether exposure to enforced village relocations and other human rights violations affect access to maternal health-care services.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
Trained survey workers asked nearly 3000 ever-married women of reproductive age in the selected communities about their access to antenatal and postnatal care, skilled birth attendants, and family planning. They measured each woman's mid-upper arm circumference (an indicator of nutritional status) and tested them for anemia (iron deficiency) and infection with malaria parasites (a common cause of anemia in tropical countries). Finally, they asked the women about any recent violations of their human rights such as forced labour or relocation. Nearly 90% of the women reported a home delivery for their last baby. A skilled attendant was present at only one in 20 births and only one in three women had any antenatal care. One third of the women received postnatal care and only a third said they had access to effective contraceptives. Few women had received iron supplements or had used insecticide-treated bednets to avoid malaria-carrying mosquitos. Consequently, more than half the women were anemic and 7.2% were infected with malaria parasites. Many women also showed signs of poor nutrition. Finally, human rights violations were widely reported by the women. In Karen, the region containing most of the study communities, forced relocation tripled the risk of women developing anemia and greatly decreased their chances of receiving any antenatal care.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings show that access to maternal health-care interventions is extremely limited and that poor nutrition, anemia, and malaria, all of which increase the risk of pregnancy complications, are widespread in the communities in the MOM project. Because these communities had some basic health services and access to training in Thailand before the project started, these results probably underestimate the lack of access to maternal health-care services in eastern Burma. Nevertheless, it is clear that considerable political, financial, and human resources will be needed to improve maternal health in this region. Finally, the findings also reveal a link between human rights violations and reduced access to maternal health-care services. Thus, the scale of human rights violations will need to be considered when evaluating programs designed to improve maternal health in Burma and in other places where there is ongoing conflict.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.0050242.
This research article is further discussed in a PLoS Medicine Perspective by Macaya Douoguih
The World Health Organization provides information on all aspects of health in Burma (in several languages)
The Mae Tao Clinic also provides general information about Burma and its health services
More information about the MOM project is available in a previous publication by the researchers
The Burma Campaign UK and Human Rights Watch both provide detailed information about human rights violations in Burma
The United Nations Population Fund provides information about safe motherhood and ongoing efforts to save mothers' lives around the world
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0050242
PMCID: PMC2605890  PMID: 19108601
9.  Inequity in hospitalization care: a study on utilization of healthcare services in West Bengal, India 
Background: Out of eight commonly agreed Millennium Development Goals (MDG), six are related to the attainment of Universal Health Coverage (UHC) throughout the globe. This universalization of health status suggests policies to narrow the gap in access and benefit sharing between different socially and economically underprivileged classes with that of the better placed ones and a consequent expansion of subsidized healthcare appears to be a common feature for most of the developing nations. The National Health Policy in India (2002) suggests expansion of market-based care for the affording class and subsidized care for the deserving class of the society. So, the benefit distribution of this limited public support in health sector is important to examine to study the welfare consequences of the policy. This paper examines the nature of utilization to inpatient care by different socio-economic groups across regions and gender in West Bengal (WB), India. The benefit incidence of public subsidies across these socio-economic groups has also been verified for different types of services like medicines, diagnostics and professional care etc.
Methods: National Sample Survey Organization (NSSO) has collected information on all hospitalized cases (60th round, 2004) with a recall period of 365 days from the sampled households through stratified random sampling technique. The data has been used to assess utilization of healthcare services during hospitalization and the distribution of public subsidies among the patients of different socio-economic background; a Benefit Incidence Analysis (BIA) has also been carried out.
Results: Analysis shows that though the rate of utilization of public hospitals is quite high, other complementary services like medicine, doctor and diagnostic tests are mostly purchased from private market. This leads to high Out-of-Pocket (OOP) expenditure. Moreover, BIA reveals that the public subsidies are mostly enjoyed by the relatively better placed patients, both socially and economically. The worse situation is observed for gender related inequality in access and benefit from public subsidies in the state.
Conclusion: Focused policies are required to ensure proper distribution of public subsidies to arrest high OOP expenditure. Drastic change in policy targeting is needed to secure equity without compromising efficiency.
doi:10.15171/ijhpm.2015.05
PMCID: PMC4289034  PMID: 25584350
Access to Hospitalization Care; Universal Health Coverage (UHC); Inequity; Utilization of Healthcare Services; Benefit Incidence Analysis (BIA)
10.  Alternative Strategies to Reduce Maternal Mortality in India: A Cost-Effectiveness Analysis 
PLoS Medicine  2010;7(4):e1000264.
A cost-effectiveness study by Sue Goldie and colleagues finds that better family planning, provision of safe abortion, and improved intrapartum and emergency obstetrical care could reduce maternal mortality in India by 75% in 5 years.
Background
Approximately one-quarter of all pregnancy- and delivery-related maternal deaths worldwide occur in India. Taking into account the costs, feasibility, and operational complexity of alternative interventions, we estimate the clinical and population-level benefits associated with strategies to improve the safety of pregnancy and childbirth in India.
Methods and Findings
Country- and region-specific data were synthesized using a computer-based model that simulates the natural history of pregnancy (both planned and unintended) and pregnancy- and childbirth-associated complications in individual women; and considers delivery location, attendant, and facility level. Model outcomes included clinical events, population measures, costs, and cost-effectiveness ratios. Separate models were adapted to urban and rural India using survey-based data (e.g., unmet need for birth spacing/limiting, facility births, skilled birth attendants). Model validation compared projected maternal indicators with empiric data. Strategies consisted of improving coverage of effective interventions that could be provided individually or packaged as integrated services, could reduce the incidence of a complication or its case fatality rate, and could include improved logistics such as reliable transport to an appropriate referral facility as well as recognition of referral need and quality of care. Increasing family planning was the most effective individual intervention to reduce pregnancy-related mortality. If over the next 5 y the unmet need for spacing and limiting births was met, more than 150,000 maternal deaths would be prevented; more than US$1 billion saved; and at least one of every two abortion-related deaths averted. Still, reductions in maternal mortality reached a threshold (∼23%–35%) without including strategies that ensured reliable access to intrapartum and emergency obstetrical care (EmOC). An integrated and stepwise approach was identified that would ultimately prevent four of five maternal deaths; this approach coupled stepwise improvements in family planning and safe abortion with consecutively implemented strategies that incrementally increased skilled attendants, improved antenatal/postpartum care, shifted births away from home, and improved recognition of referral need, transport, and availability/quality of EmOC. The strategies in this approach ranged from being cost-saving to having incremental cost-effectiveness ratios less than US$500 per year of life saved (YLS), well below India's per capita gross domestic product (GDP), a common benchmark for cost-effectiveness.
Conclusions
Early intensive efforts to improve family planning and control of fertility choices and to provide safe abortion, accompanied by a paced systematic and stepwise effort to scale up capacity for integrated maternal health services over several years, is as cost-effective as childhood immunization or treatment of malaria, tuberculosis, or HIV. In just 5 y, more than 150,000 maternal deaths would be averted through increasing contraception rates to meet women's needs for spacing and limiting births; nearly US$1.5 billion would be saved by coupling safe abortion to aggressive family planning efforts; and with stepwise investments to improve access to pregnancy-related health services and to high-quality facility-based intrapartum care, more than 75% of maternal deaths could be prevented. If accomplished over the next decade, the lives of more than one million women would be saved.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Every year, more than half a million women—most of them living in developing countries—die from pregnancy- or childbirth-related complications. About a quarter of these “maternal” deaths occur in India. In 2005, a woman's lifetime risk of maternal death in India was 1 in 70; in the UK, it was only one in 8,200. Similarly, the maternal mortality ratio (MMR; number of maternal deaths per 100,000 live births) in India was 450, whereas in the UK it was eight. Faced with the enormous maternal death toll in India and other developing countries, in September 2000, the United Nations pledged, as its fifth Millennium Development Goal (MDG 5), that the global MMR would be reduced to a quarter of its 1990 level by 2015. Currently, it seems unlikely that this target will be met. Between 1990 and 2005, global maternal deaths decreased by only 1% per annum instead of the 5% needed to reach MDG 5; in India, the decrease in maternal deaths between 1990 and 2005 was about 1.8% per annum.
Why Was This Study Done?
Most maternal deaths in developing countries are caused by severe bleeding after childbirth, infections soon after delivery, blood pressure disorders during pregnancy, and obstructed (difficult) labors. Consequently, experts agree that universal access to high-quality routine care during labor (“obstetric” care) and to emergency obstetrical care is needed to reduce maternal deaths. However, there is less agreement about how to adapt these “ideal recommendations” to specific situations. In developing countries with weak health systems and predominantly rural populations, it is unlikely that all women will have access to emergency obstetric care in the near future—so would beginning with improved access to family planning and to safe abortions (unsafe abortion is another major cause of maternal death) be a more achievable, more cost-effective way of reducing maternal deaths? How would family planning and safe abortion be coupled efficiently and cost-effectively with improved access to intrapartum care? In this study, the researchers investigate these questions by estimating the health and economic outcomes of various strategies to reduce maternal mortality in India.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers used a computer-based model that simulates women through pregnancy and childbirth to estimate the effect of different strategies (for example, increased family planning or increased access to obstetric care) on clinical outcomes (pregnancies, live births, or deaths), costs, and cost-effectiveness (the cost of saving one year of life) in India. Increased family planning was the most effective single intervention for the reduction of pregnancy-related mortality. If the current unmet need for family planning in India could be fulfilled over the next 5 years, more than 150,000 maternal deaths would be prevented, more than US$1 billion saved, and at least half of abortion-related deaths averted. However, increased family planning alone would reduce maternal deaths by 35% at most, so the researchers also used their model to test the effect of combinations of strategies on maternal death. They found that an integrated and stepwise approach (increased family planning and safe abortion combined with consecutively increased skilled birth attendants, improved care before and after birth, reduced home births, and improved emergency obstetric care) could eventually prevent nearly 80% of maternal deaths. All the steps in this strategy either saved money or involved an additional cost per year of life saved of less than US$500; given one suggested threshold for cost-effectiveness in India of the per capita GDP (US$1,068) per year of life saved, these strategies would be considered very cost-effective.
What Do These Findings Mean?
The accuracy of these findings depends on the assumptions used to build the model and the quality of the data fed into it. Nevertheless, these findings suggest that early intensive efforts to improve family planning and to provide safe abortion accompanied by a systematic, stepwise effort to improve integrated maternal health services could reduce maternal deaths in India by more than 75% in less than a decade. Furthermore, such a strategy would be cost-effective. Indeed, note the researchers, the cost savings from an initial focus on family planning and safe abortion provision would partly offset the resources needed to assure that every woman had access to high quality routine and emergency obstetric care. Thus, overall, these findings suggest that MDG 5 may be within reach in India, a conclusion that should help to mobilize political support for this worthy goal.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000264.
UNICEF (the United Nations Children's Fund) provides information on maternal mortality, including the WHO/UNICEF/UNFPA/The World Bank 2005 country estimates of maternal mortality
The World Health Organization also provides information on maternal health and about MDG 5 (in several languages)
The United Nations Millennium Development Goals Web site provides detailed information about the Millennium Declaration, the MDGs, their targets and their indicators, and about MDG 5.
The Millennium Development Goals Report 2009 and its progress chart provide an up-to-date assessment of progress toward all the MDGs
Computer simulation modeling as applied to health is further discussed at the Center for Health Decision Science at Harvard University
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000264
PMCID: PMC2857650  PMID: 20421922
11.  Contribution of community-based newborn health promotion to reducing inequities in healthy newborn care practices and knowledge: evidence of improvement from a three-district pilot program in Malawi 
BMC Public Health  2013;13:1052.
Background
Inequities in both health status and coverage of health services are considered important barriers to achieving Millennium Development Goal 4. Community-based health promotion is a strategy that is believed to reduce inequities in rural low-income settings. This paper examines the contributions of community-based programming to improving the equity of newborn health in three districts in Malawi.
Methods
This study is a before-and-after evaluation of Malawi’s Community-Based Maternal and Newborn Care (CBMNC) program, a package of facility and community-based interventions to improve newborn health. Health Surveillance Assistants (HSAs) within the catchment area of 14 health facilities were trained to make pregnancy and postnatal home visits to promote healthy behaviors and assess women and newborns for danger signs requiring referral to a facility. “Core groups” of community volunteers were also trained to raise awareness about recommended newborn care practices. Baseline and endline household surveys measured the coverage of the intervention and targeted health behaviors for this before-and-after evaluation. Wealth indices were constructed using household asset data and concentration indices were compared between baseline and endline for each indicator.
Results
The HSAs trained in the intervention reached 36.7% of women with a pregnancy home visit and 10.9% of women with a postnatal home visit within three days of delivery. Coverage of the intervention was slightly inequitable, with richer households more likely to receive one or two pregnancy home visits (concentration indices (CI) of 0.0786 and 0.0960), but not significantly more likely to receive a postnatal visit or know of a core group. Despite modest coverage levels for the intervention, health equity improved significantly over the study period for several indicators. Greater improvements in inequities were observed for knowledge indicators than for coverage of routine health services. At endline, a greater proportion of women from the poorest quintile knew three or more danger signs for pregnancy, delivery, and postpartum mothers than did women from the least poor quintile (change in CI: -0.1704, -0.2464, and -0.4166, respectively; p < 0.05). Equity also significantly improved for coverage of some health behaviors, including delivery at a health facility (change in CI: -0.0591), breastfeeding within the first hour (-0.0379), and delayed bathing (-0.0405).
Conclusions
Although these results indicate promising improvements for newborn health in Malawi, the extent to which the CBMNC program contributed to these improvements in coverage and equity are not known. The strategies through which community-based programs are implemented likely play an important role in their ability to improve equity, and further research and program monitoring are needed to ensure that the poorest households are reached by community-based health programs.
doi:10.1186/1471-2458-13-1052
PMCID: PMC3833651  PMID: 24199832
Newborn health; Community health workers; Equity; Malawi; Health surveillance assistants; Maternal health
12.  The Influence of Health Systems on Hypertension Awareness, Treatment, and Control: A Systematic Literature Review 
PLoS Medicine  2013;10(7):e1001490.
Will Maimaris and colleagues systematically review the evidence that national or regional health systems, including place of care and medication co-pays, influence hypertension awareness, treatment, and control.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Background
Hypertension (HT) affects an estimated one billion people worldwide, nearly three-quarters of whom live in low- or middle-income countries (LMICs). In both developed and developing countries, only a minority of individuals with HT are adequately treated. The reasons are many but, as with other chronic diseases, they include weaknesses in health systems. We conducted a systematic review of the influence of national or regional health systems on HT awareness, treatment, and control.
Methods and Findings
Eligible studies were those that analyzed the impact of health systems arrangements at the regional or national level on HT awareness, treatment, control, or antihypertensive medication adherence. The following databases were searched on 13th May 2013: Medline, Embase, Global Health, LILACS, Africa-Wide Information, IMSEAR, IMEMR, and WPRIM. There were no date or language restrictions. Two authors independently assessed papers for inclusion, extracted data, and assessed risk of bias. A narrative synthesis of the findings was conducted. Meta-analysis was not conducted due to substantial methodological heterogeneity in included studies. 53 studies were included, 11 of which were carried out in LMICs. Most studies evaluated health system financing and only four evaluated the effect of either human, physical, social, or intellectual resources on HT outcomes. Reduced medication co-payments were associated with improved HT control and treatment adherence, mainly evaluated in US settings. On balance, health insurance coverage was associated with improved outcomes of HT care in US settings. Having a routine place of care or physician was associated with improved HT care.
Conclusions
This review supports the minimization of medication co-payments in health insurance plans, and although studies were largely conducted in the US, the principle is likely to apply more generally. Studies that identify and analyze complexities and links between health systems arrangements and their effects on HT management are required, particularly in LMICs.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
In 2008, one billion people, three-quarters of whom were living in low- and middle-income countries, had high blood pressure (hypertension). Worldwide, hypertension, which rarely has any symptoms, leads to about 7.5 million deaths annually from heart attacks, stroke, other cardiovascular diseases, and kidney disease. Hypertension, selected by the World Health Organization as the theme for World Health Day 2013, is diagnosed by measuring blood pressure, the force that blood circulating in the body exerts on the inside of large blood vessels. Blood pressure is highest when the heart is contracts to pump blood out (systolic blood pressure) and lowest when the heart relaxes and refills (diastolic blood pressure). Normal adult blood pressure is defined as a systolic blood pressure of less than 120 millimeters of mercury (mmHg) and a diastolic blood pressure of less than 80 mmHg (a blood pressure of less than 120/80 mmHg). A blood pressure reading of more than 140/90 mmHg indicates hypertension. Many factors affect blood pressure, but overweight people and individuals who eat fatty or salty foods are at high risk of developing hypertension.
Why Was This Study Done?
Most individuals can achieve good hypertension control, which reduces death and disability from cardiovascular and kidney disease, by making lifestyle changes (mild hypertension) and/or by taking antihypertensive drugs. Yet, in both developed and developing countries, many people with hypertension are not aware of their condition and are not adequately treated. As with other chronic diseases, weaknesses in health care systems probably contribute to the inadequate treatment of hypertension. A health care system comprises all the organizations, institutions, and resources whose primary purpose is to improve health. Weaknesses in health care systems can exist at the national, regional, district, community, and household level. In this systematic review (a study that uses predefined criteria to identify all the research on a given topic), the researchers investigate how national and regional health care system arrangements influence hypertension awareness, treatment, and control. Actions that might influence hypertension care at this level of health care systems include providing treatment for hypertension at no or reduced cost, the introduction of financial incentives to healthcare practitioners for the diagnosis and treatment of hypertension, and enhanced insurance coverage in countries such as the US where people pay for health care through insurance policies.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers identified 53 studies that analyzed whether regional or national health care systems arrangements were associated with patient awareness of hypertension, treatment of hypertension, adherence to antihypertensive medication treatment, and control of hypertension. The researchers used an established conceptual framework for health care systems and an approach called narrative synthesis to analyze the results of these studies, most of which were conducted in the US (36 studies) and other high-income countries (eight studies). Nearly all the studies evaluated the effects of health system financing on hypertension outcomes, although several looked at the effects of delivery and governance of health systems on these outcomes. The researchers' analysis revealed an association between reduced medication co-payments (drug costs that are not covered by health insurance and that are paid by patients in countries without universal free healthcare) and improved hypertension control and treatment adherence, mainly in US settings. In addition, in US settings, health insurance coverage was associated with improved hypertension outcomes, as was having a routine physician or place of care.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that minimizing co-payments for health care and expansion of health insurance coverage in countries without universal free health care may improve the awareness, treatment, and control of hypertension. Although these findings are based mainly on US studies, they are likely to apply more generally but, importantly, these findings indicate that additional, high-quality studies are needed to unravel the impact of health systems arrangements on the management of hypertension. In particular, they reveal few studies in low- and middle-income countries where most of the global burden of hypertension lies and where weaknesses in health systems often result in deficiencies in the care of chronic diseases. Moreover, they highlight a need for studies that evaluate how aspects of health care systems other than financing (for example, delivery and governance mechanisms) and interactions between health care system arrangements affect hypertension outcomes. Without the results of such studies, governments and national and international organizations will not know the best ways to deal effectively with the global public-health crisis posed by hypertension.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001490.
The US National Heart Lung and Blood Institute has patient information about high blood pressure (in English and Spanish)
The American Heart Association provides information on high blood pressure (in several languages) and personal stories about dealing with high blood pressure
The UK National Health Service (NHS) Choices website provides detailed information for patients about hypertension and a personal story about hypertension
The World Health Organization provides information on controlling blood pressure and on health systems (in several languages); its "A Global Brief on Hypertension" was published on World Health Day 2013
MedlinePlus provides links to further information about high blood pressure (in English and Spanish)
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001490
PMCID: PMC3728036  PMID: 23935461
13.  Gender and Regional Differentials in Health Expectancy in Greece 
Background
Differentials and inequalities in heath status are closely related to the implementation and the sustainability of public health policies. The paper investigates differences in health expectancy as an indicator of population health among regions and between genders.
Design and Methods
Based on activity limitation, we compute Healthy Life Years indicator by applying the prevalence-based Sullivan method. The analysis is based on data from the National Health Survey conducted in Greece in 2009 by the Hellenic Statistical Authority, carried out on a multistage probability sample of 6172 individuals.
Results
The results show that men are more likely than women to live a greater part of their life in good health. When regions are considered (NUTS_1 and NUTS_2 levels), the resulting diversities in healthy life years are more pronounced than those in life expectancy.
Conclusions
The paper provides additional insights about health status discrepancies among Greek geographic regions and between genders. The results indicate that men are more likely to report to be in good health than women, and the differences by gender are more pronounced at regional than at national level. This empirical evidence can be used for monitoring both, the population health status and the undesired differentials in health expectancy, and may therefore be a useful tool for health policies aiming at reducing heath inequalities among individuals.
Significance for public healthHealth expectancy differentials challenge the debate about health policies aiming at reducing heath inequalities among individuals. The paper suggests that health status discrepancies measured by healthy life years’ indicator are pronounced among regions and between genders. Our findings have implications for several issues related to public health policies and, in particular, those referring to prevention, the universal access to health services as well as the quality of the provision of health care services. Monitoring both the health status of the population and the undesired differentials in health expectancy should help to avoid an expansion of morbidity and to reduce the unequal distribution of population’s health status.
doi:10.4081/jphr.2013.e12
PMCID: PMC4147731  PMID: 25170483
health status; health expectancy; regional and gender differentials; Greece
14.  Facilitating the Recruitment of Minority Ethnic People into Research: Qualitative Case Study of South Asians and Asthma 
PLoS Medicine  2009;6(10):e1000148.
Aziz Sheikh and colleagues report on a qualitative study in the US and the UK to investigate ways to bolster recruitment of South Asians into asthma studies, including making inclusion of diverse populations mandatory.
Background
There is international interest in enhancing recruitment of minority ethnic people into research, particularly in disease areas with substantial ethnic inequalities. A recent systematic review and meta-analysis found that UK South Asians are at three times increased risk of hospitalisation for asthma when compared to white Europeans. US asthma trials are far more likely to report enrolling minority ethnic people into studies than those conducted in Europe. We investigated approaches to bolster recruitment of South Asians into UK asthma studies through qualitative research with US and UK researchers, and UK community leaders.
Methods and Findings
Interviews were conducted with 36 researchers (19 UK and 17 US) from diverse disciplinary backgrounds and ten community leaders from a range of ethnic, religious, and linguistic backgrounds, followed by self-completion questionnaires. Interviews were digitally recorded, translated where necessary, and transcribed. The Framework approach was used for analysis. Barriers to ethnic minority participation revolved around five key themes: (i) researchers' own attitudes, which ranged from empathy to antipathy to (in a minority of cases) misgivings about the scientific importance of the question under study; (ii) stereotypes and prejudices about the difficulties in engaging with minority ethnic populations; (iii) the logistical challenges posed by language, cultural differences, and research costs set against the need to demonstrate value for money; (iv) the unique contexts of the two countries; and (v) poorly developed understanding amongst some minority ethnic leaders of what research entails and aims to achieve. US researchers were considerably more positive than their UK counterparts about the importance and logistics of including ethnic minorities, which appeared to a large extent to reflect the longer-term impact of the National Institutes of Health's requirement to include minority ethnic people.
Conclusions
Most researchers and community leaders view the broadening of participation in research as important and are reasonably optimistic about the feasibility of recruiting South Asians into asthma studies provided that the barriers can be overcome. Suggested strategies for improving recruitment in the UK included a considerably improved support structure to provide academics with essential contextual information (e.g., languages of particular importance and contact with local gatekeepers), and the need to ensure that care is taken to engage with the minority ethnic communities in ways that are both culturally appropriate and sustainable; ensuring reciprocal benefits was seen as one key way of avoiding gatekeeper fatigue. Although voluntary measures to encourage researchers may have some impact, greater impact might be achieved if UK funding bodies followed the lead of the US National Institutes of Health requiring recruitment of ethnic minorities. Such a move is, however, likely in the short- to medium-term, to prove unpopular with many UK academics because of the added “hassle” factor in engaging with more diverse populations than many have hitherto been accustomed to.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
In an ideal world, everyone would have the same access to health care and the same health outcomes (responses to health interventions). However, health inequalities—gaps in health care and in health between different parts of the population—exist in many countries. In particular, people belonging to ethnic minorities in the UK, the US, and elsewhere have poorer health outcomes for several conditions than people belonging to the ethnic majority (ethnicity is defined by social characteristics such as cultural tradition or national origin). For example, in the UK, people whose ancestors came from the Indian subcontinent (also known as South Asians and comprising in the main of people of Indian, Pakistani, and Bangladeshi origin) are three times as likely to be admitted to hospital for asthma as white Europeans. The reasons underpinning ethnic health inequalities are complex. Some inequalities may reflect intrinsic differences between groups of people—some ethnic minorities may inherit genes that alter their susceptibility to a specific disease. Other ethnic health inequalities may arise because of differences in socioeconomic status or because different cultural traditions affect the uptake of health care services.
Why Was This Study Done?
Minority ethnic groups are often under-represented in health research, which could limit the generalizability of research findings. That is, an asthma treatment that works well in a trial where all the participants are white Europeans might not be suitable for South Asians. Clinicians might nevertheless use the treatment in all their patients irrespective of their ethnicity and thus inadvertently increase ethnic health inequality. So, how can ethnic minorities be encouraged to enroll into research studies? In this qualitative study, the investigators try to answer this question by talking to US and UK asthma researchers and UK community leaders about how they feel about enrolling ethnic minorities into research studies. The investigators chose to compare the feelings of US and UK asthma researchers because minority ethnic people are more likely to enroll into US asthma studies than into UK studies, possibly because the US National Institute of Health's (NIH) Revitalization Act 1993 mandates that all NIH-funded clinical research must include people from ethnic minority groups; there is no similar mandatory policy in the UK.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The investigators interviewed 16 UK and 17 US asthma researchers and three UK social researchers with experience of working with ethnic minorities. They also interviewed ten community leaders from diverse ethnic, religious and linguistic backgrounds. They then analyzed the interviews using the “Framework” approach, an analytical method in which qualitative data are classified and organized according to key themes and then interpreted. By comparing the data from the UK and US researchers, the investigators identified several barriers to ethnic minority participation in health research including: the attitudes of researchers towards the scientific importance of recruiting ethnic minority people into health research studies; prejudices about the difficulties of including ethnic minorities in health research; and the logistical challenges posed by language and cultural differences. In general, the US researchers were more positive than their UK counterparts about the importance and logistics of including ethnic minorities in health research. Finally, the investigators found that some community leaders had a poor understanding of what research entails and about its aims.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings reveal a large gap between US and UK researchers in terms of policy, attitudes, practices, and experiences in relation to including ethnic minorities in asthma research. However, they also suggest that most UK researchers and community leaders believe that it is both important and feasible to increase the participation of South Asians in asthma studies. Although some of these findings may have been affected by the study participants sometimes feeling obliged to give “politically correct” answers, these findings are likely to be generalizable to other diseases and to other parts of Europe. Given their findings, the researchers warn that a voluntary code of practice that encourages the recruitment of ethnic minority people into health research studies is unlikely to be successful. Instead, they suggest, the best way to increase the representation of ethnic minority people in health research in the UK might be to follow the US lead and introduce a policy that requires their inclusion in such research.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000148.
Families USA, a US nonprofit organization that campaigns for high-quality, affordable health care for all Americans, has information about many aspects of minority health in the US, including an interactive game about minority health issues
The US Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality has a section on minority health
The UK Department of Health provides information on health inequalities and a recent report on the experiences of patients in Black and minority ethnic groups
The UK Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology also has a short article on ethnicity and health
Information on the NIH Revitalization Act 1993 is available
NHS Evidences Ethnicity and Health has a variety of policy, clinical, and research resources on ethnicity and health
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000148
PMCID: PMC2752116  PMID: 19823568
15.  Socio-economic inequalities in health care utilisation in Norway: a population based cross-sectional survey 
Background
Norway provides universal health care coverage to all residents, but socio-economic inequalities in health are among the largest in Europe. Evidence on inequalities in health care utilisation is sparse, and the aim of this population based study was to investigate socio-economic inequalities in the utilisation of health care services in Tromsø, Norway.
Methods
We used questionnaire data from the cross-sectional Tromsø Study, conducted in 2007–8. All together 12,982 persons aged 30–87 years participated with the response rate of 65.7%. This is slightly more than one third of the total population (33.8%) in the mentioned age group in Tromsø municipality. By logistic regression analyses we studied associations between household income, education and self-rated occupational status and the utilisation of general practitioner, somatic and psychiatric specialist outpatient services. The outcome variables were probability and frequency of use during the previous 12 months. Analyses were stratified by gender and adjusted for age, marital status, and self-rated health.
Results
Self-rated health was the dominant predictor of health care utilisation. Women’s probability of visiting a general practitioner did not vary by socio-economic status, but high income was associated with less frequent use (odds ratio [OR] for trend 0.89, 95% confidence interval [CI] 0.81-0.98). In men, high income predicted lower probability and frequency of general practitioner utilisation (OR for trend 0.85, CI 0.76-0.94, and 0.86, 0.78-0.95, respectively). Women’s probability of visiting a somatic specialist increased with higher income (OR for trend 1.11, CI 1.01-1.21) and higher education (OR for trend 1.27, CI 1.16-1.39). We found the same trends for men, though significant only for education (OR for trend 1.14, CI 1.05-1.25). The likelihood of visiting psychiatric specialist services increased with higher education and decreased with higher income in women (OR for trend 1.57, CI 1.24-1.98, and 0.69, 0.56-0.86, respectively), but did not vary significantly by socio-economic variables in men. Higher income predicted more frequent use of psychiatric specialist services in men (OR for trend 2.02, CI 1.12-3.63).
Conclusions
This study revealed important inequalities in the utilisation of health care services in Norway, inequalities which may contribute to sustaining inequalities in health outcomes.
doi:10.1186/1472-6963-12-336
PMCID: PMC3508955  PMID: 23006844
Cross-sectional study; Socio-economic inequalities; Health care utilisation; General practitioner; Somatic specialist; Psychiatric specialist; Norway
16.  HIV, Gender, Race, Sexual Orientation, and Sex Work: A Qualitative Study of Intersectional Stigma Experienced by HIV-Positive Women in Ontario, Canada 
PLoS Medicine  2011;8(11):e1001124.
Mona Loutfy and colleagues used focus groups to examine experiences of stigma and coping strategies among HIV-positive women in Ontario, Canada.
Background
HIV infection rates are increasing among marginalized women in Ontario, Canada. HIV-related stigma, a principal factor contributing to the global HIV epidemic, interacts with structural inequities such as racism, sexism, and homophobia. The study objective was to explore experiences of stigma and coping strategies among HIV-positive women in Ontario, Canada.
Methods and Findings
We conducted a community-based qualitative investigation using focus groups to understand experiences of stigma and discrimination and coping methods among HIV-positive women from marginalized communities. We conducted 15 focus groups with HIV-positive women in five cities across Ontario, Canada. Data were analyzed using thematic analysis to enhance understanding of the lived experiences of diverse HIV-positive women. Focus group participants (n = 104; mean age = 38 years; 69% ethnic minority; 23% lesbian/bisexual; 22% transgender) described stigma/discrimination and coping across micro (intra/interpersonal), meso (social/community), and macro (organizational/political) realms. Participants across focus groups attributed experiences of stigma and discrimination to: HIV-related stigma, sexism and gender discrimination, racism, homophobia and transphobia, and involvement in sex work. Coping strategies included resilience (micro), social networks and support groups (meso), and challenging stigma (macro).
Conclusions
HIV-positive women described interdependent and mutually constitutive relationships between marginalized social identities and inequities such as HIV-related stigma, sexism, racism, and homo/transphobia. These overlapping, multilevel forms of stigma and discrimination are representative of an intersectional model of stigma and discrimination. The present findings also suggest that micro, meso, and macro level factors simultaneously present barriers to health and well being—as well as opportunities for coping—in HIV-positive women's lives. Understanding the deleterious effects of stigma and discrimination on HIV risk, mental health, and access to care among HIV-positive women can inform health care provision, stigma reduction interventions, and public health policy.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
HIV-related stigma and discrimination—prejudice, negative attitudes, abuse, and maltreatment directed at people living with HIV—is a major factor contributing to the global HIV epidemic. HIV-related stigma, which devalues and stereotypes people living with HIV, increases vulnerability to HIV infection by reducing access to HIV prevention, testing, treatment, and support. At the personal (micro) level, HIV-related stigma can make it hard for people to take tests to determine their HIV status or to tell other people that they are HIV positive. At the social/community (meso) level, it can mean that HIV-positive people are ostracized from their communities. At the organizational/political (macro) level, it can mean that health-care workers treat HIV-positive people differently and that governments are deterred from taking fast, effective action against the HIV epidemic. In addition, HIV-related stigma is negatively associated with well-being among people living with HIV. Thus, among HIV-positive people, those who have experienced HIV-related stigma have higher levels of mental and physical illness.
Why Was This Study Done?
Racism (oppression and inequity founded on ethno-racial differences), sexism and gender discrimination (oppression and inequity based on gender bias in attitudes), and homophobia and transphobia (discrimination, fear, hostility, and violence towards nonheterosexual and transgender people, respectively) can also affect access to HIV services. However, little is known about how these different forms of stigma and discrimination interact (intersect). A better understanding of the effect of intersecting stigmas on people living with HIV could help in the development of stigma reduction interventions and HIV prevention, treatment and care programs, and could help to control global HIV infection rates. In this qualitative study (an analysis of people's attitudes and experiences rather than numerical data), the researchers investigate the intersection of HIV-related stigma, racism, sexism and gender discrimination, homophobia and transphobia among marginalized HIV-positive women in Ontario, Canada. As elsewhere in the world, HIV infection rates are increasing among women in Canada. Nearly 25% of people living with HIV in Canada are women and about a quarter of all new infections are in women. Moreover, there is a disproportionately high infection rate among marginalized women in Canada such as sex workers and lesbian, bisexual, and queer women.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers held 15 focus groups with 104 marginalized HIV-positive women who were recruited by word-of-mouth and through flyers circulated in community agencies serving women of diverse ethno-cultural origins. Each focus group explored topics that included challenges in daily life, medical issues and needs, and issues that were silenced within the participants' communities. The researchers analyzed the data from these focus groups using thematic analysis, an approach that identifies, analyzes, and reports themes in qualitative data. They found that women living with HIV in Ontario experienced multiple types of stigma at different levels. So, for example, women experienced HIV-related stigma at the micro (“If you're HIV-positive, you feel shameful”), meso (“The thing I hate most for people that test positive for HIV is that society ostracizes them”), and macro (“A lot of women are not getting employed because they have to disclose their status”) levels. The women also attributed their experiences of stigma and discrimination to sexism and gender discrimination, racism, homophobia and transphobia, and involvement in sex work at all three levels and described coping strategies at the micro (resilience; “I always live with hope”), meso (participation in social networks), and macro (challenging stigma) levels.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings indicate that marginalized HIV-positive women living in Ontario experience overlapping forms of stigma and discrimination and that these forms of stigma operate over micro, meso, and macro levels, as do the coping strategies adopted by the women. Together, these results support an intersectional model of stigma and discrimination that should help to inform discussions about the complexity of stigma and coping strategies. However, because only a small sample of nonrandomly selected women was involved in this study, these findings need to be confirmed in other groups of HIV-positive women. If confirmed, the complex system of interplay of different forms of stigma revealed here should help to inform health-care provision, stigma reduction interventions, and public-health policy, and could, ultimately, help to bring the global HIV epidemic under control.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001124.
Information is available from the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases on HIV infection and AIDS
NAM/aidsmap basic information about HIV/AIDS, and summaries of recent research findings on HIV care and treatment; its publication HIV and stigma deals with HIV-related stigma in the UK
Information is available from Avert, an international AIDS charity on many aspects of HIV/AIDS, including information on women, HIV, and AIDS, on HIV and AIDS stigma and discrimination, and on HIV/AIDS statistics for Canada (in English and Spanish)
The People Living with Stigma Index to address stigma relating to HIV and advocate on key barriers and issues perpetuating stigma; it has recently published Piecing it together for women and girls, the gender dimensions of HIV-related stigma; its website will soon include a selection of individual stories about HIV-related stigma
Patient stories about living with HIV/AIDS are available through Avert and through the charity website Healthtalkonline
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001124
PMCID: PMC3222645  PMID: 22131907
17.  Inequalities in reproductive, maternal, newborn and child health in Vietnam: a retrospective study of survey data for 1997–2006 
Background
Vietnam has achieved considerable success in economic development, poverty reduction, and health over a relatively short period of time. However, there is concern that inequalities in health outcomes and intervention coverage are widening. This study explores if inequalities in reproductive, maternal, newborn and child health and nutrition changed over time in Vietnam in 1997–2006, and if inequalities were different depending on the type of stratifying variable used to measure inequalities and on the type of outcome studied.
Methods
Using data from four nationally representative household surveys conducted in 1997–2006, we study inequalities in reproductive, maternal, newborn and child health and nutrition outcomes and intervention coverage by computing concentration indices by living standards, maternal education, ethnicity, region, urban/rural residence, and sex of child.
Results
Inequalities in maternal, newborn and child health persisted in 1997–2006. Inequalities were largest by living standards, but not trivial by the other stratifying variables. Inequalities in health outcomes generally increased over time, while inequalities in intervention coverage generally declined. The most equitably distributed interventions were family planning, exclusive breastfeeding, and immunizations. The most inequitably distributed interventions were those requiring multiple service contacts, such as four or more antenatal care visits, and those requiring significant support from the health system, such as skilled birth attendance.
Conclusions
Three main policy implications emerge. First, persistent inequalities suggest the need to address financial and other access barriers, for example by subsidizing health care for the poor and ethnic minorities and by support from other sectors, for example in strengthening transportation networks. This should be complemented by careful monitoring and evaluation of current program design and implementation to ensure effective and efficient use of resources. Second, greater inequalities for interventions that require multiple service contacts imply that inequalities could be reduced by strengthening information and service provision by community and village health workers to promote and sustain timely care-seeking. Finally, larger inequalities for interventions that require a fully functioning health system suggest that investments in health facilities and human resources, particularly in areas that are disproportionately inhabited by the poor and ethnic minorities, may contribute to reducing inequalities.
doi:10.1186/1472-6963-12-456
PMCID: PMC3529685  PMID: 23237475
Equity; Health care utilization; Health inequalities; Health outcomes; Reproductive health; Maternal health; Newborn health; Child health
18.  Universal Health Coverage for India by 2022: A Utopia or Reality? 
It is the obligation of the state to provide free and universal access to quality health-care services to its citizens. India continues to be among the countries of the world that have a high burden of diseases. The various health program and policies in the past have not been able to achieve the desired goals and objectives. 65th World Health Assembly in Geneva identified universal health coverage (UHC) as the key imperative for all countries to consolidate the public health advances. Accordingly, Planning Commission of India constituted a high level expert group (HLEG) on UHC in October 2010. HLEG submitted its report in Nov 2011 to Planning Commission on UHC for India by 2022. The recommendations for the provision of UHC pertain to the critical areas such as health financing, health infrastructure, health services norms, skilled human resources, access to medicines and vaccines, management and institutional reforms, and community participation. India faces enormous challenges to achieve UHC by 2022 such as high disease prevalence, issues of gender equality, unregulated and fragmented health-care delivery system, non-availability of adequate skilled human resource, vast social determinants of health, inadequate finances, lack of inter-sectoral co-ordination and various political pull and push of different forces, and interests. These challenges can be met by a paradigm shift in health policies and programs in favor of vulnerable population groups, restructuring of public health cadres, reorientation of undergraduate medical education, more emphasis on public health research, and extensive education campaigns. There are still areas of concern in fulfilling the objectives of achieving UHC by 2022 regarding financing model for health-care delivery, entitlement package, cost of health-care interventions and declining state budgets. However, the Government's commitment to provide adequate finances, recent bold social policy initiatives and enactments such as food security bill, enhanced participation by civil society in all health matters, major initiative by some states such as Tamil Nadu to improve health, water, and sanitation services are good enough reasons for hope that UHC can be achieved by 2022. However, in the absence of sustained financial support, strong political will and leadership, dedicated involvement of all stakeholders and community participation, attainment of UHC by 2022 will remain a Utopia.
doi:10.4103/0970-0218.112430
PMCID: PMC3714944  PMID: 23878417
Management reforms; public health; reality; universal health care; utopia
19.  A decade of improvements in equity of access to reproductive and maternal health services in Cambodia, 2000–2010 
Introduction
Despite encouraging reductions in global maternal mortality rates, Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 5 on reducing maternal mortality and achieving universal access to reproductive health remains the most off-track of all MDGs. Furthermore a preoccupation with aggregate coverage statistics masks extensive disparities in health improvements between societal groups. Recent national health indicators for Cambodia highlight impressive improvements, for example, in maternal, infant and child mortality, whilst substantial government commitments have been made since 2000 to address health inequities. It is therefore timely to explore the extent of equity in access to key reproductive and maternal health services in Cambodia and how this has changed over time.
Methods
Analysis was conducted on three rounds of Demographic and Health Survey data from 2000, 2005 and 2010. Outcome variables comprised utilisation of six reproductive and maternal health services – antenatal care, skilled birth attendance, facility-based delivery, postnatal care, met need for family planning and abortion by skilled provider. Four equity measures were calculated – equity gaps, equity ratios, concentration curves and concentration indices. Household assets were used to create the social-stratification variable, using principal components analysis.
Results
Coverage levels of all six services improved over the decade. Coverage improvements were greatest amongst wealthier quintiles of the population, although poorer quintiles also increased use of services. Critically, inequity in service use of all services dramatically reduced over time, except for postnatal care where inequity increased slightly. However, in 2010 inequity in service use remained favouring wealthier quintiles, greatest in use of skilled birth attendance and facility-based delivery, though the magnitude of inequity was substantially reduced compared to 2000. Met need for family planning was almost perfectly equitable in 2010.
Conclusions
Cambodia has made impressive improvements in overall coverage of reproductive and maternal health services over the last decade, and also in the distribution of their use across wealth quintiles. A range of pro-poor health financing and supply-side policies as well as non-health factors may have contributed to these achievements. Further research will explore specific schemes qualitatively and quantitatively to assess their impact on equity and service use.
doi:10.1186/1475-9276-12-51
PMCID: PMC3723953  PMID: 23837577
Equity; Access; Utilisation; Reproductive and maternal health services; Cambodia
20.  The effect of Self-Help Groups on access to maternal health services: evidence from rural India 
Introduction
The main challenge for achieving universal health coverage in India is ensuring effective coverage of poor and vulnerable communities in the face of high levels of income and gender inequity in access to health care. Drawing on the social capital generated through women’s participation in community organizations like SHGs can influence health outcomes. To date, evidence about the impact of SHGs on health outcomes has been derived from pilot-level interventions, some using randomised controlled trials and other rigorous methods. While the evidence from these studies is convincing, our study is the first to analyse the impact of SHGs at national level.
Methods
We analyzed the entire dataset from the third national District Level Household Survey from 601 districts in India to assess the impact of the presence of SHGs on maternal health service uptake. The primary predictor variable was presence of a SHG in the village. The outcome variables were: institutional delivery; feeding new-borns colostrum; knowledge about family planning methods; and ever used family planning. We controlled for respondent education, wealth, heard or seen health messages, availability of health facilities and the existence of a village health and sanitation committee.
Results
Stepwise logistic regression shows respondents from villages with a SHG were 19 per cent (OR: 1.19, CI: 1.13-1.24) more likely to have delivered in an institution, 8 per cent (OR: 1.08, CI: 1.05-1.14) more likely to have fed newborns colostrum, have knowledge (OR: 1.48, CI 1.39 – 1.57) and utilized (OR: 1.19, CI 1.11 – 1.27) family planning products and services. These results are significant after controlling for individual and village-level heterogeneities and are consistent with existing literature that the social capital generated through women’s participation in SHGs influences health outcome.
Conclusion
The study concludes that the presence of SHGs in a village is associated with higher knowledge of family planning and maternal health service uptake in rural India. To achieve the goal of improving public health nationally, there is a need to understand more fully the benefits of systematic collaboration between the public health community and these grassroots organizations.
doi:10.1186/1475-9276-12-36
PMCID: PMC3673812  PMID: 23714337
Self help group; Institutional delivery; Family planning; Barriers; India
21.  Gaps in universal health coverage in Malawi: A qualitative study in rural communities 
Background
In sub-Saharan Africa, universal health coverage (UHC) reforms have often adopted a technocratic top-down approach, with little attention being paid to the rural communities’ perspective in identifying context specific gaps to inform the design of such reforms. This approach might shape reforms that are not sufficiently responsive to local needs. Our study explored how rural communities experience and define gaps in universal health coverage in Malawi, a country which endorses free access to an Essential Health Package (EHP) as a means towards universal health coverage.
Methods
We conducted a qualitative cross-sectional study in six rural communities in Malawi. Data was collected from 12 Focus Group Discussions with community residents and triangulated with 8 key informant interviews with health care providers. All respondents were selected through stratified purposive sampling. The material was tape-recorded, fully transcribed, and coded by three independent researchers.
Results
The results showed that the EHP has created a universal sense of entitlements to free health care at the point of use. However, respondents reported uneven distribution of health facilities and poor implementation of public-private service level agreements, which have led to geographical inequities in population coverage and financial protection. Most respondents reported affordability of medical costs at private facilities and transport costs as the main barriers to universal financial protection. From the perspective of rural Malawians, gaps in financial protection are mainly triggered by supply-side access-related barriers in the public health sector such as: shortages of medicines, emergency services, shortage of health personnel and facilities, poor health workers’ attitudes, distance and transportation difficulties, and perceived poor quality of health services.
Conclusions
Moving towards UHC in Malawi, therefore, implies the introduction of appropriate interventions to fill the financial protection gaps in the private sector and the access-related gaps in the public sector and/or an effective public-private partnership that completely integrates both sectors. Current universal health coverage reforms need to address context specific gaps and be carefully crafted to avoid creating a sense of universal entitlements in principle, which may not be effectively received by beneficiaries due to contextual and operational bottlenecks.
doi:10.1186/1472-6963-14-234
PMCID: PMC4051374  PMID: 24884788
Universal health coverage; Financial protection; Access to health care; Gaps in coverage; Geographical inequities; Community perspective; Qualitative study; Malawi
22.  Health and Human Rights in Chin State, Western Burma: A Population-Based Assessment Using Multistaged Household Cluster Sampling 
PLoS Medicine  2011;8(2):e1001007.
Sollom and colleagues report the findings from a household survey study carried out in Western Burma; they report a high prevalence of human rights violations such as forced labor, food theft, forced displacement, beatings, and ethnic persecution.
Background
The Chin State of Burma (also known as Myanmar) is an isolated ethnic minority area with poor health outcomes and reports of food insecurity and human rights violations. We report on a population-based assessment of health and human rights in Chin State. We sought to quantify reported human rights violations in Chin State and associations between these reported violations and health status at the household level.
Methods and Findings
Multistaged household cluster sampling was done. Heads of household were interviewed on demographics, access to health care, health status, food insecurity, forced displacement, forced labor, and other human rights violations during the preceding 12 months. Ratios of the prevalence of household hunger comparing exposed and unexposed to each reported violation were estimated using binomial regression, and 95% confidence intervals (CIs) were constructed. Multivariate models were done to adjust for possible confounders. Overall, 91.9% of households (95% CI 89.7%–94.1%) reported forced labor in the past 12 months. Forty-three percent of households met FANTA-2 (Food and Nutrition Technical Assistance II project) definitions for moderate to severe household hunger. Common violations reported were food theft, livestock theft or killing, forced displacement, beatings and torture, detentions, disappearances, and religious and ethnic persecution. Self reporting of multiple rights abuses was independently associated with household hunger.
Conclusions
Our findings indicate widespread self-reports of human rights violations. The nature and extent of these violations may warrant investigation by the United Nations or International Criminal Court.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
More than 60 years after the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, thousands of people around the world are still deprived of their basic human rights—life, liberty, and security of person. In many countries, people live in fear of arbitrary arrest and detention, torture, forced labor, religious and ethnic persecution, forced displacement, and murder. In addition, ongoing conflicts and despotic governments deprive them of the ability to grow sufficient food (resulting in food insecurity) and deny them access to essential health care. In Burma, for example, the military junta, which seized power in 1962, frequently confiscates land unlawfully, demands forced labor, and uses violence against anyone who protests. Burma is also one of the world's poorest countries in terms of health indicators. Its average life expectancy is 54 years, its maternal mortality rate (380 deaths among women from pregnancy-related causes per 100,000 live births) is nearly ten times higher than that of neighboring Thailand, and its under-five death rate (122/1000 live births) is twice that of nearby countries. Moreover, nearly half of Burmese children under 5 are stunted, and a third of young children are underweight, indicators of malnutrition in a country that, on paper, has a food surplus.
Why Was This Study Done?
Investigators are increasingly using population-based methods to quantify the associations between human rights violations and health outcomes. In eastern Burma, for example, population-based research has recently revealed a link between human rights violations and reduced access to maternal health-care services. In this study, the researchers undertake a population-based assessment of health and human rights in Chin State, an ethnic minority area in western Burma where multiple reports of human rights abuses have been documented and from which thousands of people have fled. In particular, the researchers investigate correlations between household hunger and household experiences of human rights violations—food security in Chin State is affected by periodic expansions of rat populations that devastate crop yields, by farmers being forced by the government to grow an inedible oil crop (jatropha), and by the Burmese military regularly stealing food and livestock.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
Local surveyors questioned the heads of randomly selected households in Chin State about their household's access to health care and its health status, and about forced labor and other human rights violations experienced by the household during the preceding 12 months. They also asked three standard questions about food availability, the answers to which were combined to provide a measure of household hunger. Of the 621 households interviewed, 91.9% reported at least one episode of a household member being forced to work in the preceding 12 months. The Burmese military imposed two-thirds of these forced labor demands. Other human rights violations reported included beating or torture (14.8% of households), religious or ethnic persecutions (14.1% of households), and detention or imprisonment of a family member (5.9% of households). Forty-three percent of the households met the US Agency for International Development Food and Nutrition Technical Assistance (FANTA) definition for moderate to severe household hunger, and human rights violations related to food insecurity were common. For example, more than half the households were forced to give up food out of fear of violence. A statistical analysis of these data indicated that the prevalence of household hunger was 6.51 times higher in households that had experienced three food-related human rights violations than in households that had not experienced such violations.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings quantify the extent to which the Chin ethnic minority in Burma is subjected to multiple human rights violations and indicate the geographical spread of these abuses. Importantly, they show that the health impacts of human rights violations in Chin State are substantial. In addition, they suggest that the indirect health outcomes of human rights violations probably dwarf the mortality from direct killings. Although this study has some limitations (for example, surveyors had to work in secret and it was not safe for them to collect biological samples that could have given a more accurate indication of the health status of households than questions alone), these findings should encourage the international community to intensify its efforts to reduce human rights violations in Burma.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001007.
The UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights is available in numerous languages
The Burma Campaign UK and Human Rights Watch provide detailed information about human rights violations in Burma (in several languages)
The World Health Organization provides information on health in Burma and on human rights (in several languages)
The Mae Tao clinic also provides general information about Burma and its health services (including some information in Thai)
A PLoS Medicine Research Article by Luke Mullany and colleagues provides data on human rights violations and maternal health in Burma
The Chin Human Rights Organization is working to protect and promote the rights of the Chin people
The Global Health Access Program (GHAP) provides information on health in Burma
FANTA works to improve nutrition and global food security policies
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001007
PMCID: PMC3035608  PMID: 21346799
23.  Impact of Community-Based Maternal Health Workers on Coverage of Essential Maternal Health Interventions among Internally Displaced Communities in Eastern Burma: The MOM Project 
PLoS Medicine  2010;7(8):e1000317.
Mullany and colleagues report outcomes from a project involving delivery of community-based maternal health services in eastern Burma, and report substantial increases in coverage of care.
Background
Access to essential maternal and reproductive health care is poor throughout Burma, but is particularly lacking among internally displaced communities in the eastern border regions. In such settings, innovative strategies for accessing vulnerable populations and delivering basic public health interventions are urgently needed.
Methods
Four ethnic health organizations from the Shan, Mon, Karen, and Karenni regions collaborated on a pilot project between 2005 and 2008 to examine the feasibility of an innovative three-tiered network of community-based providers for delivery of maternal health interventions in the complex emergency setting of eastern Burma. Two-stage cluster-sampling surveys among ever-married women of reproductive age (15–45 y) conducted before and after program implementation enabled evaluation of changes in coverage of essential antenatal care interventions, attendance at birth by those trained to manage complications, postnatal care, and family planning services.
Results
Among 2,889 and 2,442 women of reproductive age in 2006 and 2008, respectively, population characteristics (age, marital status, ethnic distribution, literacy) were similar. Compared to baseline, women whose most recent pregnancy occurred during the implementation period were substantially more likely to receive antenatal care (71.8% versus 39.3%, prevalence rate ratio [PRR] = 1.83 [95% confidence interval (CI) 1.64–2.04]) and specific interventions such as urine testing (42.4% versus 15.7%, PRR = 2.69 [95% CI 2.69–3.54]), malaria screening (55.9% versus 21.9%, PRR = 2.88 [95% CI 2.15–3.85]), and deworming (58.2% versus 4.1%, PRR = 14.18 [95% CI 10.76–18.71]. Postnatal care visits within 7 d doubled. Use of modern methods to avoid pregnancy increased from 23.9% to 45.0% (PRR = 1.88 [95% CI 1.63–2.17]), and unmet need for contraception was reduced from 61.7% to 40.5%, a relative reduction of 35% (95% CI 28%–40%). Attendance at birth by those trained to deliver elements of emergency obstetric care increased almost 10-fold, from 5.1% to 48.7% (PRR = 9.55 [95% CI 7.21–12.64]).
Conclusions
Coverage of maternal health interventions and higher-level care at birth was substantially higher during the project period. The MOM Project's focus on task-shifting, capacity building, and empowerment at the community level might serve as a model approach for similarly constrained settings.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Every minute, somewhere in the world, a woman dies of complications related to pregnancy and childbirth. Access to essential maternal and reproductive health care (including family planning) is particularly bad in war-torn countries. In Burma, for example, where there have been decades of conflict between the military junta and ethnic minority resistance groups, the maternal mortality rate (the number of deaths among women from pregnancy-related causes per 100,000 live births) is around 380, whereas in neighboring Thailand it is only 44. Maternal health is even worse in the Shan, Mon, Karen, and Karenni regions of eastern Burma where ethnic conflicts and enforced village relocations have internally displaced more than half a million people. Here, the maternal mortality rate is around 1,200. In an effort to improve access to maternal health services in these regions, community-based organizations in Burma, the Johns Hopkins Center for Public Health and Human Rights, and the Global Health Access Program undertook an innovative pilot project—the Mobile Obstetric Medics (MOM) project—between 2005 and 2008. Local health workers from 12 communities in eastern Burma received training in antenatal care, obstetrics (the care of women during childbirth), postnatal care, and family planning at the Mae Tao Clinic in Mae Sot, Thailand. These “maternal health workers” then returned to Burma where they trained local health workers and traditional birth attendants to provide maternal health care to their communities.
Why Was This Study Done?
Before the MOM project started, nearly 3,000 women living in the study communities were surveyed to evaluate the coverage of essential antenatal care interventions such as urine testing for infections during pregnancy, screening for malaria, and deworming; Urinary tract infections, malaria, and hookworm infections all increase the risk of poor maternal and neonatal outcomes. The preproject survey also evaluated how many births were attended by people able to deal with complications, and the provision of postnatal care and family planning services. In this study, the researchers undertake a similar postproject survey to evaluate the impact of MOM on the coverage of essential maternal health interventions among internally displaced communities in eastern Burma.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
Between October 2008 and December 2008, trained survey workers asked nearly 2,500 ever-married women of reproductive age from the project's study communities about their access to antenatal and postnatal care, skilled birth attendants, and family planning. The results of the postproject survey were then compared with those of the “baseline,” preproject survey. The general characteristics (age, marital status, ethnicity, and literacy) of the women included in the two surveys were very similar. However, 71.8% of the women whose most recent pregnancy occurred during the implementation period of the MOM project had received antenatal care compared to only 39.3% of women surveyed at baseline. Similarly, among the women questioned during the postproject survey, 42.4% had had their urine tested and 55.9% had been screened for malaria during pregnancy compared to only 15.7% and 21.9%, respectively, of the women questioned in the preproject survey. Deworming had increased from 4.1% to 58.2% during the project, postnatal care visits within 7 days had doubled, and attendance at birth by people trained to deal with obstetric emergencies had increased 10-fold from 5.1% to 48.7%. Finally, the use of modern contraception methods (slow-release contraceptives, oral contraceptives, and condoms) had increased from 23.9% to 45.0%.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings reveal a substantial improvement in access to maternal and reproductive health care in the study communities during the MOM project. However, because the study compared two independent groups of women before and after implementation of the MOM project rather than concurrently comparing groups of women who did and did not receive the services provided by the MOM project, this study does not prove that the MOM approach was the cause of the changes in the coverage of essential maternal health care. Nevertheless, these findings suggest that the type of approach used in the MOM project—the expansion of interventions (including components of emergency obstetric care) delivered outside healthcare facilities by community-based providers—might be an effective way to deliver maternal and reproductive health services in other parts of Burma and in other places where there are ongoing conflicts.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000317.
More information about the MOM project is available in previous publications by the researchers in PLoS Medicine, in Reproductive Health Matters, and in Social Science and Medicine
Additional resources are also available on the MOM Project
The Reproductive Health Response in Conflict Consortium provides information on how conflicts affect reproductive health
The World Health Organization provides information on all aspects of health in Burma (in several languages)
The Mae Tao clinic also provides general information about Burma and its health services
The Burma Campaign UK and Human Rights Watch both provide detailed information about human rights violations, including those that affect maternal health in Burma
The United Nations Population Fund provides information about safe motherhood and maternal and reproductive health during conflicts and among refugees (in several languages)
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000317
PMCID: PMC2914639  PMID: 20689805
24.  Socioeconomic Inequalities in Lung Cancer Treatment: Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis 
PLoS Medicine  2013;10(2):e1001376.
In a systematic review and meta-analysis, Lynne Forrest and colleagues find that patients with lung cancer who are more socioeconomically deprived are less likely to receive surgical treatment, chemotherapy, or any type of treatment combined, compared with patients who are more socioeconomically well off, regardless of cancer stage or type of health care system.
Background
Intervention-generated inequalities are unintended variations in outcome that result from the organisation and delivery of health interventions. Socioeconomic inequalities in treatment may occur for some common cancers. Although the incidence and outcome of lung cancer varies with socioeconomic position (SEP), it is not known whether socioeconomic inequalities in treatment occur and how these might affect mortality. We conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis of existing research on socioeconomic inequalities in receipt of treatment for lung cancer.
Methods and Findings
MEDLINE, EMBASE, and Scopus were searched up to September 2012 for cohort studies of participants with a primary diagnosis of lung cancer (ICD10 C33 or C34), where the outcome was receipt of treatment (rates or odds of receiving treatment) and where the outcome was reported by a measure of SEP. Forty-six papers met the inclusion criteria, and 23 of these papers were included in meta-analysis. Socioeconomic inequalities in receipt of lung cancer treatment were observed. Lower SEP was associated with a reduced likelihood of receiving any treatment (odds ratio [OR] = 0.79 [95% CI 0.73 to 0.86], p<0.001), surgery (OR = 0.68 [CI 0.63 to 0.75], p<0.001) and chemotherapy (OR = 0.82 [95% CI 0.72 to 0.93], p = 0.003), but not radiotherapy (OR = 0.99 [95% CI 0.86 to 1.14], p = 0.89), for lung cancer. The association remained when stage was taken into account for receipt of surgery, and was found in both universal and non-universal health care systems.
Conclusions
Patients with lung cancer living in more socioeconomically deprived circumstances are less likely to receive any type of treatment, surgery, and chemotherapy. These inequalities cannot be accounted for by socioeconomic differences in stage at presentation or by differences in health care system. Further investigation is required to determine the patient, tumour, clinician, and system factors that may contribute to socioeconomic inequalities in receipt of lung cancer treatment.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Lung cancer is the most commonly occurring cancer worldwide and the commonest cause of cancer-related death. Like all cancers, lung cancer occurs when cells begin to grow uncontrollably because of changes in their genes. The most common trigger for these changes in lung cancer is exposure to cigarette smoke. Most cases of lung cancer are non-small cell lung cancer, the treatment for which depends on the “stage” of the disease when it is detected. Stage I tumors, which are confined to the lung, can be removed surgically. Stage II tumors, which have spread to nearby lymph nodes, are usually treated with surgery plus chemotherapy or radiotherapy. For more advanced tumors, which have spread throughout the chest (stage III) or throughout the body (stage IV), surgery generally does not help to slow tumor growth and the cancer is treated with chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Small cell lung cancer, the other main type of lung cancer, is nearly always treated with chemotherapy and radiotherapy but sometimes with surgery as well. Overall, because most lung cancers are not detected until they are quite advanced, less than 10% of people diagnosed with lung cancer survive for 5 years.
Why Was This Study Done?
As with many other cancers, socioeconomic inequalities have been reported for both the incidence of and the survival from lung cancer in several countries. It is thought that the incidence of lung cancer is higher among people of lower socioeconomic position than among wealthier people, in part because smoking rates are higher in poorer populations. Similarly, it has been suggested that survival is worse among poorer people because they tend to present with more advanced disease, which has a worse prognosis (predicted outcome) than early disease. But do socioeconomic inequalities in treatment exist for lung cancer and, if they do, could these inequalities contribute to the poor survival rates among populations of lower socioeconomic position? In this systematic review and meta-analysis, the researchers investigate the first of these questions. A systematic review uses predefined criteria to identify all the research on a given topic; a meta-analysis is a statistical approach that combines the results of several studies.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers identified 46 published papers that studied people with lung cancer in whom receipt of treatment was reported in terms of an indicator of socioeconomic position, such as a measure of income or deprivation. Twenty-three of these papers were suitable for inclusion in a meta-analysis. Lower socioeconomic position was associated with a reduced likelihood of receiving any treatment. Specifically, the odds ratio (chance) of people in the lowest socioeconomic group receiving any treatment was 0.79 compared to people in the highest socioeconomic group. Lower socioeconomic position was also associated with a reduced chance of receiving surgery (OR = 0.68) and chemotherapy (OR = 0.82), but not radiotherapy. The association between socioeconomic position and surgery remained after taking cancer stage into account. That is, when receipt of surgery was examined in early-stage patients only, low socioeconomic position remained associated with reduced likelihood of surgery. Notably, the association between socioeconomic position and receipt of treatment was similar in studies undertaken in countries where health care is free at the point of service for everyone (for example, the UK) and in countries with primarily private insurance health care systems (for example, the US).
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that patients in more socioeconomically deprived circumstances are less likely to receive any type of treatment, surgery, and chemotherapy (but not radiotherapy) for lung cancer than people who are less socioeconomically deprived. Importantly, these inequalities cannot be explained by socioeconomic differences in stage at presentation or by differences in health care system. The accuracy of these findings may be affected by several factors. For example, it is possible that only studies that found an association between socioeconomic position and receipt of treatment have been published (publication bias). Moreover, the studies identified did not include information regarding patient preferences, which could help explain at least some of the differences. Nevertheless, these results do suggest that socioeconomic inequalities in receipt of treatment may exacerbate socioeconomic inequalities in the incidence of lung cancer and may contribute to the observed poorer outcomes in lower socioeconomic position groups. Further research is needed to determine the system and patient factors that contribute to socioeconomic inequalities in lung cancer treatment before clear recommendations for changes to policy and practice can be made.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001376.
The US National Cancer Institute provides information about all aspects of lung cancer for patients and health care professionals (in English and Spanish); a monograph entitled Area Socioeconomic Variations in U. S. Cancer Incidence, Mortality, Stage, Treatment, and Survival, 19751999 is available
Cancer Research UK also provides detailed information about lung cancer and links to other resources, such as a policy statement on socioeconomic inequalities in cancer and a monograph detailing cancer and health inequalities in the UK
The UK National Health Service Choices website has a page on lung cancer that includes personal stories about diagnosis and treatment
MedlinePlus provides links to other US sources of information about lung cancer (in English and Spanish)
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001376
PMCID: PMC3564770  PMID: 23393428
25.  Equity in Maternal Health in South Africa: Analysis of Health Service Access and Health Status in a National Household Survey 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(9):e73864.
Background
South Africa is increasingly focused on reducing maternal mortality. Documenting variation in access to maternal health services across one of the most inequitable nations could assist in re-direction of resources.
Methods
Analysis draws on a population-based household survey that used multistage-stratified sampling. Women, who in the past two years were pregnant (1113) or had a child (1304), completed questionnaires and HIV testing. Distribution of access to maternal health services and health status across socio-economic, education and other population groups was assessed using weighted data.
Findings
Poorest women had near universal antenatal care coverage (ANC), but only 39.6% attended before 20 weeks gestation; this figure was 2.7-fold higher in the wealthiest quartile (95%CI adjusted odds ratio = 1.2–6.1). Women in rural-formal areas had lowest ANC coverage (89.7%), percentage completing four ANC visits (79.7%) and only 84.0% were offered HIV testing. Testing levels were highest among the poorest quartile (90.1% in past two years), but 10% of women above 40 or with low education had never tested. Skilled birth attendant coverage (overall 95.3%) was lowest in the poorest quartile (91.4%) and rural formal areas (85.6%). Around two thirds of the wealthiest quartile, of white and of formally-employed women had a doctor at childbirth, 11-fold higher than the poorest quartile. Overall, only 44.4% of pregnancies were planned, 31.7% of HIV-infected women and 68.1% of the wealthiest quartile. Self-reported health status also declined considerably with each drop in quartile, education level or age group.
Conclusions
Aside from early ANC attendance and deficiencies in care in rural-formal areas, inequalities in utilisation of services were mostly small, with some measures even highest among the poorest. Considerably larger differences were noted in maternal health status across population groups. This may reflect differences between these groups in quality of care received, HIV infection and in social determinants of health.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0073864
PMCID: PMC3765324  PMID: 24040097

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