Objective: To explore the effect of BRAC (formerly Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee) initiatives towards promoting gender and social equity in health among children of poor mothers who are BRAC members.
Design: A cohort of 576 children from the prospective study of a BRAC- International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh joint research project was analysed. Data were collected three times during 1995-1996 with approximately 4-month intervals. Stunting, defined as height-for-age below minus two standard deviations from the reference median, was the outcome health measure. The study children were stratified into three groups according to their mother's social and BRAC membership status: poor and BRAC member (BM), poor non-member (TG) and non-poor non-member (NTG).
Setting: Matlab, rural area of Bangladesh.
Subjects: Children aged 6-72 months.
Results: The overall prevalence of stunting was 76%; the highest prevalence was found among TG (84.6%) children and no significant difference was observed between BM and NTG children (67.3% and 69.4%, respectively). In all groups, a significantly larger proportion of girls was stunted compared with boys in the first round. Group-level analysis showed that stunting decreased among all children except BM boys at the end of third round, with the largest decline among BM girls. In contrast, stunting prevalence increased among BM boys. A similar trend was found in the individual-level analysis, where a larger proportion of BM girls recovered from stunting compared with other groups and no recovery was observed among BM boys. At the end of the third round, the nutritional status of BM girls was almost equal to that of the BM boys, while gender inequity remained large among TG and NTG children.
Conclusion: The BRAC initiative appeared to contribute to a significant equity gain in health for girls, as well as to decreased differences in ill health between the poor and the non-poor.