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Open Access Research article

User fee exemptions and excessive household spending for normal delivery in Burkina Faso: the need for careful implementation

Amal Ben Ameur1, Valéry Ridde23*, Aristide R Bado4, Marie-Gloriose Ingabire1 and Ludovic Queuille2

Author Affiliations

1 International Development Research Centre (IDRC, Ottawa, Canada

2 Centre de recherche du Centre Hospitalier de l'Université de Montréal, Montréal, Québec (CRCHUM), Canada

3 Department of Social and Preventive Medicine, Université de Montréal, Montréal, Québec, Canada

4 Institut de Recherche en Sciences de la Santé (IRSS, Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso

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BMC Health Services Research 2012, 12:412  doi:10.1186/1472-6963-12-412

Published: 21 November 2012

Abstract

Background

In 2006, the Parliament of Burkina Faso passed a policy to reduce the direct costs of obstetric services and neonatal care in the country’s health centres, aiming to lower the country’s high national maternal mortality and morbidity rates. Implementation was via a “partial exemption” covering 80% of the costs. In 2008 the German NGO HELP launched a pilot project in two health districts to eliminate the remaining 20% of user fees. Regardless of any exemptions, women giving birth in Burkina Faso’s health centres face additional expenses that often represent an additional barrier to accessing health services. We compared the total cost of giving birth in health centres offering partial exemption versus those with full exemption to assess the impact on additional out-of-pocket fees.

Methods

A case–control study was performed to compare medical expenses. Case subjects were women who gave birth in 12 health centres located in the Dori and Sebba districts, where HELP provided full fee exemption for obstetric services and neonatal care. Controls were from six health centres in the neighbouring Djibo district where a partial fee exemption was in place. A random sample of approximately 50 women per health centre was selected for a total of 870 women.

Results

There was an implementation gap regarding the full exemption for obstetric services and neonatal care. Only 1.1% of the sample from Sebba but 17.5% of the group from Dori had excessive spending on birth related costs, indicating that women who delivered in Sebba were much less exposed to excessive medical expenses than women from Dori. Additional out-of-pocket fees in the full exemption health districts took into account household ability to pay, with poorer women generally paying less.

Conclusions

We found that the elimination of fees for facility-based births benefits especially the poorest households. The existence of excessive spending related to direct costs of giving birth is of concern, making it urgent for the government to remove all direct fees for obstetric and neonatal care. However, the policy of completely abolishing user fees is insufficient; the implementation process must have a thorough monitoring system to reduce implementation gaps.