Socioeconomic differences in caesarean section - Are they explained by medical need? An analysis of patient record data of a large Kenyan hospital

Lisa Van Der Spek, Sterre Sanglier, Hillary M. Mabeya, Thomas Van Den Akker, Paul L.J.M. Mertens, Tanja A.J. Houweling*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Background: Caesarean section (C-section) rates are often low among the poor and very high among the better-off in low- and middle-income countries. We examined to what extent these differences are explained by medical need in an African context. Methods: We analyzed electronic records of 12,209 women who gave birth in a teaching hospital in Kenya in 2014. C-section rates were calculated by socioeconomic position (SEP), using maternal occupation (professional, small business, housewife, student) as indicator. We assessed if women had documented clinical indications according to hospital guidelines and if socioeconomic differences in C-section rates were explained by indication. Results: Indication for C-section according to hospital guidelines was more prevalent among professionals than housewives (16% vs. 9% of all births). The C-section rate was also higher among professionals than housewives (21.1% vs. 15.8% [OR 1.43; 95%CI 1.23-1.65]). This C-section rate difference was largely explained by indication (4.7 of the 5.3 percentage point difference between professionals and housewives concerned indicated C-sections, often with previous C-section as indication). Repeat C-sections were near-universal (99%). 43% of primary C-sections had no documented indication. Over-use was somewhat higher among professionals than housewives (C-section rate among women without indication: 6.6 and 5.5% respectively), which partly explained socioeconomic differences in primary C-section rate. Conclusions: Socioeconomic differences in C-section rates can be largely explained by unnecessary primary C-sections and higher supposed need due to previous C-section. Prevention of unnecessary primary C-sections and promoting safe trial of labor should be priorities in addressing C-section over-use and reducing inequalities. Tweetable abstract: Unnecessary primary C-sections and ubiquitous repeat C-sections drive overall C-section rates and C-section inequalities.

Original languageEnglish
Article number117
JournalInternational journal for equity in health
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 8 Jul 2020


  • Africa
  • Caesarean section
  • Clinical category
  • Delivery
  • Developing countries
  • Epidemiology
  • General obstetric
  • General obstetrics
  • Health equity
  • Maternity services
  • Obstetrics and gynaecology
  • Pregnancy
  • Socioeconomic factors


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