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Revista Panamericana de Salud Pública

On-line version ISSN 1680-5348
Print version ISSN 1020-4989


DACHS, J. Norberto W. et al. Inequalities in health in Latin America and the Caribbean: descriptive and exploratory results for self-reported health problems and health care in twelve countries. Rev Panam Salud Publica [online]. 2002, vol.11, n.5-6, pp.335-355. ISSN 1680-5348.

Objective. To explore and describe inequalities in health and use of health care as revealed by self-report in 12 countries of Latin America and the Caribbean. Methods. A descriptive and exploratory study was performed based on the responses to questions on health and health care utilization that were included in general purpose household surveys. Inequalities are described by quintile of household expenditures (or income) per capita, sex, age group (children, adults, and older adults), and place of residence (urban vs. rural area). For those who sought health care, median polishing was performed by economic status and sex, for the three age groups. Results. Although the study is exploratory and descriptive, its findings show large economic gradients in health care utilization in these countries, with generally small differences between males and females and higher percentages of women seeking health care than men, although there were some exceptions among the lower economic strata in urban areas. Conclusions. Inequalities in self-reported health problems among the different economic strata were small, and such problems were usually more common among women than men. The presence of small inequalities may be due to cultural and social differences in the perception of health. However, in most countries included in the study, large inequalities were found in the use of health care for the self-reported health problems. It is important to develop regional projects aimed at improving the questions on self-reported health in household interview surveys so that the determinants of the inequalities in health can be studied in depth. The authors conclude that due to the different patterns of economic gradients among different age groups and among males and females, the practice of standardization used in constructing concentration curves and in computing concentration indices should be avoided. At the end is a set of recommendations on how to improve these sources of data. Despite their shortcomings, household interview surveys are very useful in understanding the dimensions of health inequalities in these countries.

Keywords : Health inequalities; use of health services; self-reported health; household surveys; Latin America; Caribbean.

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