Differences between women and men in political and economic empowerment, education, and health risks are well-documented. Similar gender inequities in access to care and medicines have been hypothesized but evidence is lacking.
We analyzed 2002 World Health Survey data for 257,922 adult respondents and 80,932 children less than 5 years old from 53 mostly low and middle-income countries. We constructed indicators of need for, access to, and perceptions of care, and we described the number of countries with equal and statistically different proportions of women and men for each indicator. Using multivariate logistic regression models, we estimated effects of gender on our study outcomes, overall and by household poverty.
Women reported significantly more need for care for three of six chronic conditions surveyed, and they were more likely to have at least one of the conditions (OR 1.41 [95% CI 1.38, 1.44]). Among those with reported need for care, there were no consistent differences in access to care between women and men overall (e.g., treatment for all reported chronic conditions, OR 1.00 [0.96, 1.04]) or by household poverty. Of concern, access to care for chronic conditions was distressingly low among both men and women in many countries, as was access to preventive services among boys and girls less than 5 years old.
These cross-country results do not suggest a systematic disadvantage of women in access to curative care and medicines for treating selected chronic conditions or acute symptoms, or to preventive services among boys and girls.