Objective: To determine the extent to which the narrowing of child mortality across wealth gradients has been related to foreign aid to the health sector in low- and middle-income countries.
Methods: Mortality and wealth data on 989,901 under-5 children from 957,674 households in 49 aid recipient countries in Africa, Asia, South America, and the Caribbean between 1993 and 2012 were used in the analysis. Declines in under-5 mortality in the four poorest wealth quantiles were compared to the decline among the wealthiest at varying levels of health aid per capita using fixed effects multivariable regression models and controlling for maternal education, urbanization, and domestic spending on health among recipient countries.
Results: Each additional dollar in total health aid per capita was associated with 5.7 fewer deaths per 10,000 child-years among children in the poorest relative to the wealthiest households (p<0.001). This was also true when measured in percent declines (1.90% faster decline in under-5 mortality among the poorest compared with the wealthiest with each dollar in total health aid, p = 0.008). The association was stronger when using health aid specifically for malaria than total health aid, 12.60% faster decline among the poorest compared with the wealthiest with each dollar in malaria aid, p = 0.001.
Conclusions: Foreign aid to the health sector is preferentially related to reductions in under-5 mortality among the poorest compared with the wealthiest. Health aid addressing malaria, which imposes a disproportionate burden among the poor, may explain the observed effect.