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The impact of the health care workforce on under-five mortality in rural China.



Previous studies have focused on the relationship between increases in the health care workforce and child health outcomes, but little is known about how this relationship differs in contexts where economic growth differs by initial level and pace. This study evaluates the association between increased health professionals and the under-five mortality rate (U5MR) in rural Chinese counties from 2008 to 2014 and examines whether this relationship differs among counties with different patterns of economic growth over this period.


We estimated fixed effects models with rural counties as the unit of analysis to evaluate the association between health professional density and U5MR. Covariates included county-level gross domestic product (GDP) per capita, female illiteracy rate, value of medical equipment per bed, and province-level health expenditures (measured as a proportion of provincial GDP). To explore modification effects, we assessed interactions between health professionals and county types defined by county poverty status and county-level trajectories of growth in GDP per capita. U5MR data have been adjusted for county-level underreporting, and all other data were obtained from administrative and official sources.


The U5MR dropped by 36.19% during the study period. One additional health professional per 1000 population was associated with a 2.6% reduction in U5MR, after controlling for other covariates. County poverty status and GDP trajectories moderated this relationship: the U5MR reductions attributed to a one-unit increase in health professionals were 6.8% among poor counties, but only 1.1% among non-poor ones. These reductions were, respectively, 6.7%, 0.7%, and 4.3% in counties with initially low GDP that slowly increased, medium-level GDP that rose at a moderate pace, and high GDP that rose rapidly.


This study demonstrates that increased health professionals were associated with reductions in U5MR. The largest association was seen in poor counties and those with low and slowly increasing GDP per capita, which justifies further expansion of the health care workforce in these areas. This study could be instructive for other developing countries to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 3 by helping them identify where additional health professionals would make the greatest contribution.

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