Objective: Few studies have examined the link between health system strength and important public health outcomes across nations. We examined the association between health system indicators and mortality rates.
Methods: We used mixed effects linear regression models to investigate the strength of association between outcome and explanatory variables, while accounting for geographic clustering of countries. We modelled infant mortality rate (IMR), child mortality rate (CMR), and maternal mortality rate (MMR) using 13 explanatory variables as outlined by the World Health Organization.
Results: Significant protective health system determinants related to IMR included higher physician density (adjusted rate ratio [aRR] 0.81; 95% Confidence Interval [CI] 0.71-0.91), higher sustainable access to water and sanitation (aRR 0.85; 95% CI 0.78-0.93), and having a less corrupt government (aRR 0.57; 95% CI 0.40-0.80). Out-of-pocket expenditures on health (aRR 1.29; 95% CI 1.03-1.62) were a risk factor. The same four variables were significantly related to CMR after controlling for other variables. Protective determinants of MMR included access to water and sanitation (aRR 0.88; 95% CI 0.82-0.94), having a less corrupt government (aRR 0.49; 95%; CI 0.36-0.66), and higher total expenditures on health per capita (aRR 0.84; 95% CI 0.77-0.92). Higher fertility rates (aRR 2.85; 95% CI: 2.02-4.00) were found to be a significant risk factor for MMR.
Conclusion: Several key measures of a health system predict mortality in infants, children, and maternal mortality rates at the national level. Improving access to water and sanitation and reducing corruption within the health sector should become priorities.