Wealth, gender, and regional inequalities in immunization in India

Recent attention to Millennium Development Goals by the international development community has led to the formation of targets to measure country-level achievements, including achievements on health status indicators such as childhood immunization. Using the example of immunization in India, this paper demonstrates the importance of disaggregating national averages for a better understanding of social disparities in health. Specifically, the paper uses data from the India National Family Health Survey 1992–93 to analyze socioeconomic, gender, urban-rural and regional inequalities in immunization in India for each of the 17 largest states. Results show that, on average, southern states have better immunization levels and lower immunization inequalities than many northern states. Wealth and regional inequalities are correlated with overall levels of immunization in a non-linear fashion. Gender inequalities persist in most states, including in the south, and seem unrelated to overall immunization or the levels of other inequalities measured here. This suggests that the gender differentials reflect deep-seated societal factors rather than health system issues per se. The disaggregated information and analysis used in this paper allows for setting more meaningful targets than country averages. Additionally, it helps policy makers and planners to understand programmatic constraints and needs by identifying disparities between sub-groups of the population, including strong and weak performers at the state and regional levels.