Equity in Malaria Programming, the example of bednets

The WHO defines Equity as “the absence of avoidable, unfair, or remediable differences among groups of people, whether those groups are defined socially, economically, demographically or geographically or by other means of stratification. ‘Health equity’ or ‘equity in health’ implies that ideally everyone should have a fair opportunity to attain their full health potential and that no one should be disadvantaged from achieving this potential.”

WHO goes on to say that, “Countries and programs need to disaggregate selected health indicators by key stratifiers including demographic characteristics (gender, age), place of residence (urban/rural, subnational), socioeconomic status (wealth, education), as well as other characteristics (migrant/minority status etc.).”

Writing for the Tropical Disease Research Program, H. Kristian Heggenhougen, Veronica Hackethal, and Pramila Vivek in the publication, The behavioural and social aspects of malaria and its control, say that …

“What must now be clear is our conviction that any review of factors for world-wide malaria control must give specific attention to issues of socio-economic inequity and disease epidemiology.” Malaria is not an equal opportunity killer, but disproportionately affects certain segments of the population. Heggenhougen et al. continue that, “while we argue for a focused attack on malaria, we cannot avoid noting that without attention to these larger matters – inequity and marginalization – any improvement in health, including malaria, may be short-lived.”

The Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) and its Malaria Indicator Survey (MIS) provide an important snapshot on equity issues in the rollout and coverage of major malaria.   In particular, we look at the issue of long lasting insecticide-treated nets in two countries, Ghana (2016 MIS) and Liberia (2016 MIS), to demonstrate how equity issues can be seen. Two three measures are considered, wealth quintile, location (urban/rural) and gender/sex.

In Ghana we see that having at least one net for the household is more common in lower income groups. These groups are more vulnerable. Although not specifically shown in the MIS, one might assume that people in the higher income groups have better quality housing that provides less opportunity for mosquito entry. Likewise households in rural areas, where anopheles are more likely to breed, have a higher proportion of nets. So while nets are not ‘equally distributed by these characteristics, they are more favorably available in those households that may be more vulnerable to malaria.

When we look at the indicator of universal coverage where it is expected that there should be one net for every two household members, the proportion meeting that goal is much lower than simply having a net in the household for all groups.  That said the pattern of higher proportions among rural and lower income groups remains. Within households, the Ghana MIS a nearly equal proportion of female (43%) and male (41%) had slept under a net the night prior to the survey.

Overall, Liberia has much lower LLIN coverage than Ghana. The pattern for location is similar to that of Ghana, but for wealth, the poorest group (Q1) have lower coverage that wealth quintile groups 2-4. Also as in Ghana the Female (40%) and male (38%) are very similar.

We encourage readers to review the recent MIS and/or DHS reports from the countries where they work and look for differences in net availability as well as uptake of other malaria control interventions to determine the level of equity in intervention access and use, but also as one sees in Liberia, take action to ensure that strategies are in place to reach the poorest and most vulnerable segment of society.

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