Background: In 2001, India prioritized eight most socioeconomically disadvantaged states known as Empowered Action Group (EAG) states and in 2013, it prioritized 190 of the 718 as high priority districts (HPDs) to accelerate the decline in maternal and newborn mortality. This paper assesses whether the HPDs achieved a greater coverage of maternal and newborn health interventions than the non-HPDs and HPDs in EAG states achieved greater coverage than those in non-EAG states.
Methods: We used data from the Sample Registration System to assess rural neonatal mortality trends in EAG states and all India. We computed a co-coverage index based on seven maternal and newborn health interventions from the 2015/16 National Family Health Survey. Difference in differences (DID) analyses were used to examine the contribution of district prioritization, considering the HPDs and the illiterate as treatment groups and 2013 as the time cut-off for the pre- and post-treatment.
Results: Neonatal mortality declined in rural India from 36 to 27 per 1000 live births during 2010-2016 at 4.5% per year. Four EAG states experienced faster rates of decline than the national rate. From 2013, the co-coverage index increased significantly more in the HPDs compared to non-HPDs (DID = 0.11, P ≤ 0.005). The district prioritization effect on co-coverage was statistically significant in only EAG states (DID = 0.13, P ≤ 0.05). The coverage gains for illiterate mothers were greater than for literate mothers, especially in the HPDs.
Conclusions: The district prioritization in India is associated with greater improvements in the coverage of maternal and newborn health services in EAG states and the HPDs, including reductions in inequalities within those states and districts. There are however still large gaps between states and districts and within districts by the mother's literacy status that need further prioritization to make progress towards the SDG targets by 2030.
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