Development of a Proxy Wealth Index for Women Utilizing Emergency Obstetric Care in Bangladesh

Published in: Health Policy and Planning, v. 22, no. 5, Sep. 2007, p. 311-319

Posted on RAND.org on September 01, 2007

by Emma Pitchforth, Edwin van Teijlingen, Wendy Graham, Ann Fitzmaurice

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There are increasing concerns regarding inequities in access to health care, and hence calls for routine data collection to improve monitoring. For many developing countries, such as Bangladesh, increasing the availability and uptake of emergency obstetric care (EmOC) is vital in improving maternal health. It is crucial, however, that women of all socio-economic status benefit from this. This paper describes the development and validation of a proxy wealth index for assessing women's socio-economic status in Bangladesh as they are admitted to hospital. Existing poverty assessment tools are unsuitable for use in this context as they are too lengthy or need to be administered at household or community level. We sought to develop a tool with a limited number of indicators to allow quick administration and avoid interference with treatment. We also aimed to develop a pragmatic tool to be able to calculate a score in the field. The steps, involving selecting and weighting indicators, assigning a proxy wealth score and validating the score, are outlined. Indicators were selected from the Bangladeshi Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) data, which allowed comparison of socio-economic status between women using EmOC and those in the wider population. The tool proved quick and easy to use and was acceptable to women and their families. The validity of the tool was established by means of factor analysis. Our comparison with DHS data suggested that women using EmOC were significantly wealthier than women in the wider population. The implications of this, as well as the strengths and limitations of the proxy wealth index, are discussed. The proxy wealth index offers potential as a pragmatic and quick means of assessing poverty status in a busy hospital setting. Such a tool may enable monitoring of equity in access to treatment and identification of those least able to afford treatment, to enable any mechanisms in place to pay for care to be applied in a timely fashion, so avoiding delays in treating life-threatening complications.

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