Background: Growing scientific evidence points to the pervasiveness of inequities in health and health care and the persistence of the inverse care law, that is the availability of good quality healthcare seems to be inversely related to the need for it in developing countries. Achievement of the Millennium Development Goals is likely to be compromised if inequities in health/healthcare are not properly addressed.
Objective: This study attempts to assess trends in inequities in selected indicators of health status and health service utilization in Malawi using data from the Demographic and Health Surveys of 1992, 2000 and 2004.
Methods: Data from Demographic and Health Surveys of 1992, 2000 and 2004 are analysed for inequities in health/healthcare using quintile ratios and concentration curves/indices.
Results: Overall, the findings indicate that in most of the selected indicators there are pro-rich inequities and that they have been widening during the period under consideration. Furthermore, vertical inequities are observed in the use of interventions (treatment of diarrhoea, ARI among under-five children), in that the non-poor who experience less burden from these diseases receive more of the treatment/interventions, whereas the poor who have a greater proportion of the disease burden use less of the interventions. It is also observed that the publicly provided services for some of the selected interventions (e.g. child delivery) benefit the non-poor more than the poor.
Conclusion: The widening trend in inequities, in particular healthcare utilization for proven cost-effective interventions is likely to jeopardize the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals and other national and regional targets. To counteract the inequities it is recommended that coverage in poor communities be increased through appropriate targeting mechanisms and effective service delivery strategies. There is also a need for studies to identify which service delivery mechanisms are effective in the Malawian context.