Determine whether an association exists between access barriers reported by women aged 15–49 years and the use of essential health services for women and children in Latin America.
Cross-sectional study using multivariate logistic regression models based on the demographic and health surveys of Bolivia, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Peru.
Geographical and financial barriers, the need to obtain permission to visit the doctor, or not wanting to go alone to a health facility significantly reduced the likelihood of completing prenatal checkups and having an assisted delivery. Women who reported difficulties obtaining permission to visit the doctor were less likely to have had a Pap smear in the past two or three years, to complete vaccination of their children, and to seek care for children with acute respiratory infection. Not wanting to go to a health center alone reduced the likelihood of using modern contraceptives.
Women who reported barriers to access had a statistically significantly lower probability of using essential health services for themselves and their children. Strategies aimed at removing barriers should focus not only on improving the range of services offered but also address issues related to norms, gender roles, and women’s empowerment if sustainable progress toward universal access is to be made.