Open Access Research article

Inequalities in reproductive, maternal, newborn and child health in Vietnam: a retrospective study of survey data for 1997–2006

Henrik Axelson12*, Ulf-G Gerdtham345, Björn Ekman6, Dinh Thi Phuong Hoa78 and Tobias Alfvén109

Author Affiliations

1 The Partnership for Maternal, Newborn & Child Health (PMNCH), hosted by the World Health Organization, Avenue Appia 20, Geneva 27, 1211, Switzerland

2 Department of Clinical Sciences, Malmö University Hospital, Lund University, Lund, Sweden

3 Department of Economics, Lund University, Lund, Sweden

4 Health Economics & Management, Institute of Economic Research, Lund University, Lund, Sweden

5 Center for Primary Health Care Research, Lund University/Region Skåne, Lund, Sweden

6 Social Medicine and Global Health, Department of Clinical Sciences, Malmö, Lund University, Malmö, Sweden

7 Maternal and Child Health Department, Ministry of Health, Hanoi, Vietnam

8 Hanoi School of Public Health, Hanoi, Vietnam

9 Division of Global Health/IHCAR, Department of Public Health Science, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden

10 Department of Paediatrics, Sachs’ Children’ Hospital, Södersjukhuset, Stockholm, Sweden

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BMC Health Services Research 2012, 12:456  doi:10.1186/1472-6963-12-456

Published: 13 December 2012



Vietnam has achieved considerable success in economic development, poverty reduction, and health over a relatively short period of time. However, there is concern that inequalities in health outcomes and intervention coverage are widening. This study explores if inequalities in reproductive, maternal, newborn and child health and nutrition changed over time in Vietnam in 1997–2006, and if inequalities were different depending on the type of stratifying variable used to measure inequalities and on the type of outcome studied.


Using data from four nationally representative household surveys conducted in 1997–2006, we study inequalities in reproductive, maternal, newborn and child health and nutrition outcomes and intervention coverage by computing concentration indices by living standards, maternal education, ethnicity, region, urban/rural residence, and sex of child.


Inequalities in maternal, newborn and child health persisted in 1997–2006. Inequalities were largest by living standards, but not trivial by the other stratifying variables. Inequalities in health outcomes generally increased over time, while inequalities in intervention coverage generally declined. The most equitably distributed interventions were family planning, exclusive breastfeeding, and immunizations. The most inequitably distributed interventions were those requiring multiple service contacts, such as four or more antenatal care visits, and those requiring significant support from the health system, such as skilled birth attendance.


Three main policy implications emerge. First, persistent inequalities suggest the need to address financial and other access barriers, for example by subsidizing health care for the poor and ethnic minorities and by support from other sectors, for example in strengthening transportation networks. This should be complemented by careful monitoring and evaluation of current program design and implementation to ensure effective and efficient use of resources. Second, greater inequalities for interventions that require multiple service contacts imply that inequalities could be reduced by strengthening information and service provision by community and village health workers to promote and sustain timely care-seeking. Finally, larger inequalities for interventions that require a fully functioning health system suggest that investments in health facilities and human resources, particularly in areas that are disproportionately inhabited by the poor and ethnic minorities, may contribute to reducing inequalities.

Equity; Health care utilization; Health inequalities; Health outcomes; Reproductive health; Maternal health; Newborn health; Child health