NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

The Health Divide Between Rich And Poor In Developing Countries

November 14, 2000

There is a well-documented gap in health and other indicators between rich, developed countries and poor, developing countries. But such comparisons are usually based on averages that hide inequalities between different income groups within each country.

However, a newly released series of reports on 44 developing countries by the World Bank reveal a wide gap among the rich and poor in developing countries on roughly 30 indicators of health, nutrition and population status and service for each 20 percent of population by household wealth.

  • For instance, in Bolivia and Turkey, mortality rates among children under five years can be four times higher among the poorest children compared to the richest.
  • The Bangladesh report says a rich woman there is more than 15 times more likely than a poor woman to have a medically trained person (nurse, nurse-midwife, or doctor) present when she delivers her baby.
  • In Nicaragua, an average poor woman will have more than six children during her lifetime, whereas an average rich woman will have fewer than two.
  • A poor Indonesian teenage girl is five times as likely to bear a child as a rich teenage girl.

The data also confirm that the extent of inequalities varies tremendously.

  • In Malawi, for instance, there is little inequality in statistics such as childhood immunization, prenatal care and care at childbirth.
  • In contrast, India has substantial wealth inequalities in all three indicators; for example, only 12 percent of childbirths among the poorest 20 percent of the population were attended by a medically trained person compared to close to 80 percent among the richest households.
  • Peru falls in the middle of these extremes, with high inequalities in prenatal care and delivery care, but little inequality in other health characteristics such as immunization.

Source: "Socio-economic Differences in Health, Nutrition and Population," November 13, 2000, World Bank, 1818 H Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20433, (202) 477-1234.


Browse more articles on Health Issues