Access to health facilities remains limited in many resource-poor settings, and women and their children often have to travel far to seek care. However, data on distance is scarce, and it is unclear whether distance is associated with worse child health outcomes. We estimate the relationships between distance to facility, service utilization, and child mortality in low- and middle-income countries.
Population-representative data are pooled from 29 Demographic and Health Surveys across 21 low- and middle-income countries. Multivariable logistic models and meta-analysis regressions are used to estimate associations between facility distance, child mortality, and health care utilization in the pooled sample as well as for each survey.
Compared to children who live within 1 km of a facility, children living within 2 km, 3 km, and 5 km of a facility have a 7.7% (95% CI: 0.927 – 1.251), 16.3% (95% CI: 1.020 – 1.327), and 25% (95% CI: 1.087 – 1.439) higher odds of neonatal mortality, respectively; children living farther than 10 km have a 26.6% (95% CI: 1.108 – 1.445) higher odds of neonatal mortality. Women living farther than 10 km from a facility have a 55.3% lower odds of in-facility delivery compared to women who live within 1 km (OR: 0.447, 95% CI: 0.394 – 0.508).
Even relatively small distances from health facilities are associated with substantial mortality penalties for children. Policies that reduce travel distances and travel times are likely to increase utilization of health services and reduce neonatal mortality.
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