This study describes the inequalities in access to a medication delivery service (MDS) during the COVID-19 pandemic and identifies the social determinants of health-related inequalities among non-communicable disease (NCD) patients.
Data were obtained from a study on the impact of health behaviours and modifications in health behaviours during the COVID-19 pandemic in the Thai population in 2021. The participants were recruited from Bangkok and all four regions of Thailand. The concentration index was used to examine the inequality among income quintiles, which were standardised by age, sex, living area, job type, health insurance scheme, and education level. Logistic regression was used to examine the associations between socio-demographics and access to regular services and new NCD MDSs, adjusted for age, sex, and other covariates.
Among 1,739 NCD patients, greater income inequalities in accessing regular NCD services and collecting medicines at registered pharmacies during the COVID-19 pandemic were observed, for which the concentration index indicated utilisation inequalities in favour of richer households. In contrast, receiving medicine at primary care centres, by postal delivery, and delivered by village health volunteers were the new NCD MDSs, which favoured less wealthy households. NCD patients living in rural areas were more likely to access new NCD MDSs, compared to those in urban areas (adjusted odds ratio = 2.30; 95% confidence interval [CI]: 1.22–4.34). Significant associations with receiving medicine at hospitals were also observed for the income quintiles. Individuals in the lowest and 2nd lowest income quintiles were more likely to access new MDSs than those in the richest quintiles.
This study highlighted a disproportionate concentration of access to new NCD MDSs during the COVID-19 pandemic in Thailand, which was more concentrated in lower-income groups. The government should further study and integrate MDSs with the highest cost benefits into nationwide regular systems, while addressing systematic barriers to access to these services, such as the lack of shared health data across health facilities and tele pharmacy equipment. This will promote access to public services among patients in the less advantaged groups and reduce the health inequality gap.