Are the poor catching up with the rich in utilising maternal health care services? Evidence from India

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Article (peer-reviewed)

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India launched the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) in 2005 to improve maternal and child health by providing good quality health services to all, especially deprived sections of society, to reduce inequality in access to health services. With the backdrop of NRHM, we analysed the extent to which the utilisation of maternal health care services (MHCSs) in the three stages of the continuum of care—antenatal care (ANC), care during child delivery and postnatal care (PNC)—has improved among the poor vis-à-vis the rich in India, and the corresponding narrowing down in inequality in the period 2006–2016. Data from the 3rd round of the National Family Health Survey (NFHS) in 2005–2006, capturing the pre-NRHM period and the 4th round of NFHS 2015–2016, capturing the post-NRHM era ten years after the implementation of the flagship programme, are used for the analysis. We estimated absolute as well as relative measures of inequality, absolute gap and coverage ratio between the poor and rich, slope index of inequality and concentration index. Our findings show that maternal health care coverage increased significantly among the poor for all components of MHCSs. Even so, the extent of utilisation of services remains significantly lower among the poor in 2015–2016 compared to the coverage among the rich in 2005–2006. Although inequality declined at the national level over the decade, it still persists. High equity has been achieved in using skilled birth attendance during child delivery and institutional delivery during 2015–2016, however, inequality continues to be higher for ANC indicators including consumption of iron and folic acid supplements for at least 100 days, receipt of four or more antenatal check-ups and comprehensive health check-ups at least once during antenatal visits and receipt of first check-up in the first trimester.