Background: A number of data sets show that high parity births are associated with higher child mortality than low parity births. The reasons for this relationship are not clear. In this paper we investigate whether high parity is associated with lower coverage of key health interventions that might lead to increased mortality.
Methods: We used DHS data from 10 high fertility countries to examine the relationship between parity and coverage for 8 child health intervention and 9 maternal health interventions. We also used the LiST model to estimate the effect on maternal and child mortality of the lower coverage associated with high parity births.
Results: Our results show a significant relationship between coverage of maternal and child health services and birth order, even when controlling for poverty. The association between coverage and parity for maternal health interventions was more consistently significant across countries all countries, while for child health interventions there were fewer overall significant relationships and more variation both between and within countries. The differences in coverage between children of parity 3 and those of parity 6 are large enough to account for a 12% difference in the under-five mortality rate and a 22% difference in maternal mortality ratio in the countries studied.
Conclusions: This study shows that coverage of key health interventions is lower for high parity children and the pattern is consistent across countries. This could be a partial explanation for the higher mortality rates associated with high parity. Actions to address this gap could help reduce the higher mortality experienced by high parity birth.