Background: The levels and origins of socio-economic inequalities in health-seeking behaviours in Egypt are poorly understood. This paper assesses the levels of health-seeking behaviours related to maternal care (antenatal care [ANC] and facility delivery) and their accumulation during pregnancy and childbirth. Secondly, it explores the mechanisms underlying the association between socio-economic position (SEP) and maternal health-seeking behaviours. Thirdly, it examines the effectiveness of targeting of free public ANC and delivery care.
Methods: Data from the 2008 Demographic and Health Survey were used to capture two latent constructs of SEP: individual socio-cultural capital and household-level economic capital. These variables were entered into an adjusted mediation model, predicting twelve dimensions of maternal health-seeking; including any ANC, private ANC, first ANC visit in first trimester, regular ANC (four or more visits during pregnancy), facility delivery, and private delivery. ANC and delivery care costs were examined separately by provider type (public or private).
Results: While 74.2% of women with a birth in the 5-year recall period obtained any ANC and 72.4% delivered in a facility, only 48.8% obtained the complete maternal care package (timely and regular facility-based ANC as well as facility delivery) for their most recent live birth. Both socio-cultural capital and economic capital were independently positively associated with receiving any ANC and delivering in a facility. The strongest direct effect of socio-cultural capital was seen in models predicting private provider use of both ANC and delivery. Despite substantial proportions of women using public providers reporting receipt of free care (ANC: 38%, delivery: 24%), this free-of-charge public care was not effectively targeted to women with lowest economic resources.
Conclusions: Socio-cultural capital is the primary mechanism leading to inequalities in maternal health-seeking in Egypt. Future studies should therefore examine the objective and perceived quality of care from different types of providers. Improvements in the targeting of free public care could help reduce the existing SEP-based inequalities in maternal care coverage in the short term.