Impact of International Monetary Fund programs on child health

15 Aug 2017

Parental education is located at the center of global efforts to improve child health. In a developing-country context, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) plays a crucial role in determining how governments allocate scarce resources to education and public health interventions. Under reforms mandated by IMF structural adjustment programs, it may become harder for parents to reap the benefits of their education due to wage contraction, welfare retrenchment, and generalized social insecurity. This study assesses how the protective effect of education changes under IMF programs, and thus how parents' ability to guard their children's health is affected by structural adjustment. We combine cross-sectional stratified data (countries, 67; children, 1,941,734) from the Demographic and Health Surveys and the Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys. The sample represents ∼2.8 billion (about 50%) of the world's population in year 2000. Based on multilevel models, our findings reveal that programs reduce the protective effect of parental education on child health, especially in rural areas. For instance, in the absence of IMF programs, living in an household with educated parents reduces the odds of child malnourishment by 38% [odds ratio (OR), 0.62; 95% CI, 0.66-0.58]; in the presence of programs, this drops to 21% (OR, 0.79; 95% CI, 0.86-0.74). In other words, the presence of IMF conditionality decreases the protective effect of parents' education on child malnourishment by no less than 17%. We observe similar adverse effects in sanitation, shelter, and health care access (including immunization), but a beneficial effect in countering water deprivation.