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Benchmarking health system performance across districts in Zambia: a systematic analysis of levels and trends in key maternal and child health interventions from 1990 to 2010

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      Achieving universal health coverage and reducing health inequalities are primary goals for an increasing number of health systems worldwide. Timely and accurate measurements of levels and trends in key health indicators at local levels are crucial to assess progress and identify drivers of success and areas that may be lagging behind.


      We generated estimates of 17 key maternal and child health indicators for Zambia’s 72 districts from 1990 to 2010 using surveys, censuses, and administrative data. We used a three-step statistical model involving spatial-temporal smoothing and Gaussian process regression. We generated estimates at the national level for each indicator by calculating the population-weighted mean of the district values and calculated composite coverage as the average of 10 priority interventions.


      National estimates masked substantial variation across districts in the levels and trends of all indicators. Overall, composite coverage increased from 46% in 1990 to 73% in 2010, and most of this gain was attributable to the scale-up of malaria control interventions, pentavalent immunization, and exclusive breastfeeding. The scale-up of these interventions was relatively equitable across districts. In contrast, progress in routine services, including polio immunization, antenatal care, and skilled birth attendance, stagnated or declined and exhibited large disparities across districts. The absolute difference in composite coverage between the highest-performing and lowest-performing districts declined from 37 to 26 percentage points between 1990 and 2010, although considerable variation in composite coverage across districts persisted.


      Zambia has made marked progress in delivering maternal and child health interventions between 1990 and 2010; nevertheless, substantial variations across districts and interventions remained. Subnational benchmarking is important to identify these disparities, allowing policymakers to prioritize areas of greatest need. Analyses such as this one should be conducted regularly and feed directly into policy decisions in order to increase accountability at the local, regional, and national levels.

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      The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/s12916-015-0308-5) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.

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      Reliable and timely information on the leading causes of death in populations, and how these are changing, is a crucial input into health policy debates. In the Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries, and Risk Factors Study 2010 (GBD 2010), we aimed to estimate annual deaths for the world and 21 regions between 1980 and 2010 for 235 causes, with uncertainty intervals (UIs), separately by age and sex. We attempted to identify all available data on causes of death for 187 countries from 1980 to 2010 from vital registration, verbal autopsy, mortality surveillance, censuses, surveys, hospitals, police records, and mortuaries. We assessed data quality for completeness, diagnostic accuracy, missing data, stochastic variations, and probable causes of death. We applied six different modelling strategies to estimate cause-specific mortality trends depending on the strength of the data. 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At the most aggregate level, communicable, maternal, neonatal, and nutritional causes were 24·9% of deaths worldwide in 2010, down from 15·9 million (34·1%) of 46·5 million in 1990. This decrease was largely due to decreases in mortality from diarrhoeal disease (from 2·5 to 1·4 million), lower respiratory infections (from 3·4 to 2·8 million), neonatal disorders (from 3·1 to 2·2 million), measles (from 0·63 to 0·13 million), and tetanus (from 0·27 to 0·06 million). Deaths from HIV/AIDS increased from 0·30 million in 1990 to 1·5 million in 2010, reaching a peak of 1·7 million in 2006. Malaria mortality also rose by an estimated 19·9% since 1990 to 1·17 million deaths in 2010. Tuberculosis killed 1·2 million people in 2010. 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        Maternal mortality for 181 countries, 1980-2008: a systematic analysis of progress towards Millennium Development Goal 5.

        Maternal mortality remains a major challenge to health systems worldwide. Reliable information about the rates and trends in maternal mortality is essential for resource mobilisation, and for planning and assessment of progress towards Millennium Development Goal 5 (MDG 5), the target for which is a 75% reduction in the maternal mortality ratio (MMR) from 1990 to 2015. We assessed levels and trends in maternal mortality for 181 countries. We constructed a database of 2651 observations of maternal mortality for 181 countries for 1980-2008, from vital registration data, censuses, surveys, and verbal autopsy studies. We used robust analytical methods to generate estimates of maternal deaths and the MMR for each year between 1980 and 2008. We explored the sensitivity of our data to model specification and show the out-of-sample predictive validity of our methods. We estimated that there were 342,900 (uncertainty interval 302,100-394,300) maternal deaths worldwide in 2008, down from 526,300 (446,400-629,600) in 1980. The global MMR decreased from 422 (358-505) in 1980 to 320 (272-388) in 1990, and was 251 (221-289) per 100,000 livebirths in 2008. The yearly rate of decline of the global MMR since 1990 was 1.3% (1.0-1.5). During 1990-2008, rates of yearly decline in the MMR varied between countries, from 8.8% (8.7-14.1) in the Maldives to an increase of 5.5% (5.2-5.6) in Zimbabwe. More than 50% of all maternal deaths were in only six countries in 2008 (India, Nigeria, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo). In the absence of HIV, there would have been 281 500 (243,900-327,900) maternal deaths worldwide in 2008. Substantial, albeit varied, progress has been made towards MDG 5. Although only 23 countries are on track to achieve a 75% decrease in MMR by 2015, countries such as Egypt, China, Ecuador, and Bolivia have been achieving accelerated progress. Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Copyright 2010 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
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          Global malaria mortality between 1980 and 2010: a systematic analysis.

          During the past decade, renewed global and national efforts to combat malaria have led to ambitious goals. We aimed to provide an accurate assessment of the levels and time trends in malaria mortality to aid assessment of progress towards these goals and the focusing of future efforts. We systematically collected all available data for malaria mortality for the period 1980-2010, correcting for misclassification bias. We developed a range of predictive models, including ensemble models, to estimate malaria mortality with uncertainty by age, sex, country, and year. We used key predictors of malaria mortality such as Plasmodium falciparum parasite prevalence, first-line antimalarial drug resistance, and vector control. We used out-of-sample predictive validity to select the final model. Global malaria deaths increased from 995,000 (95% uncertainty interval 711,000-1,412,000) in 1980 to a peak of 1,817,000 (1,430,000-2,366,000) in 2004, decreasing to 1,238,000 (929,000-1,685,000) in 2010. In Africa, malaria deaths increased from 493,000 (290,000-747,000) in 1980 to 1,613,000 (1,243,000-2,145,000) in 2004, decreasing by about 30% to 1,133,000 (848,000-1,591,000) in 2010. Outside of Africa, malaria deaths have steadily decreased from 502,000 (322,000-833,000) in 1980 to 104,000 (45,000-191,000) in 2010. We estimated more deaths in individuals aged 5 years or older than has been estimated in previous studies: 435,000 (307,000-658,000) deaths in Africa and 89,000 (33,000-177,000) deaths outside of Africa in 2010. Our findings show that the malaria mortality burden is larger than previously estimated, especially in adults. There has been a rapid decrease in malaria mortality in Africa because of the scaling up of control activities supported by international donors. Donor support, however, needs to be increased if malaria elimination and eradication and broader health and development goals are to be met. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Copyright © 2012 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

            Author and article information

            [ ]University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley), Berkeley, CA USA
            [ ]Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, University of Washington, Seattle, WA USA
            [ ]Ministry of Health of Botswana, Gaborone, Botswana
            [ ]USAID, Washington, DC USA
            [ ]Clinton Health Access Initiative, Lusaka, Zambia
            [ ]Department of Economics, University of Bergen, Bergen, Norway
            [ ]Department of Economics, University of Zambia, Lusaka, Zambia
            BMC Med
            BMC Med
            BMC Medicine
            BioMed Central (London )
            2 April 2015
            2 April 2015
            : 13
            4382853 308 10.1186/s12916-015-0308-5
            © Colson et al.; licensee BioMed Central. 2015

            This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly credited. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.

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