Multidimensional poverty and catastrophic health spending in the mountainous regions of Myanmar, Nepal and India

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Article (peer-reviewed)

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Background: Economic burden to households due to out-of-pocket expenditure (OOPE) is large in many Asian countries. Though studies suggest increasing household poverty due to high OOPE in developing countries, studies on association of multidimensional poverty and household health spending is limited. This paper tests the hypothesis that the multidimensionally poor are more likely to incur catastrophic health spending cutting across countries. Data and methods: Data from the Poverty and Vulnerability Assessment (PVA) Survey carried out by the International Center for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) has been used in the analyses. The PVA survey was a comprehensive household survey that covered the mountainous regions of India, Nepal and Myanmar. A total of 2647 households from India, 2310 households in Nepal and 4290 households in Myanmar covered under the PVA survey. Poverty is measured in a multidimensional framework by including the dimensions of education, income and energy, water and sanitation using the Alkire and Foster method. Health shock is measured using the frequency of illness, family sickness and death of any family member in a reference period of one year. Catastrophic health expenditure is defined as 40% above the household’s capacity to pay. Results: Results suggest that about three-fifths of the population in Myanmar, two-fifths of the population in Nepal and one-third of the population in India are multidimensionally poor. About 47% of the multidimensionally poor in India had incurred catastrophic health spending compared to 35% of the multidimensionally non-poor and the pattern was similar in both Nepal and Myanmar. The odds of incurring catastrophic health spending was 56% more among the multidimensionally poor than among the multidimensionally non-poor [95% CI: 1.35-1.76]. While health shocks to households are consistently significant predictors of catastrophic health spending cutting across country of residence, the educational attainment of the head of the household is not significant. Conclusion: The multidimensionally poor in the poorer regions are more likely to face health shocks and are less likely to afford professional health services. Increasing government spending on health and increasing households’ access to health insurance can reduce catastrophic health spending and multidimensional poverty.