Open Access Open Badges Research article

Motivation and incentives of rural maternal and neonatal health care providers: a comparison of qualitative findings from Burkina Faso, Ghana and Tanzania

Helen Prytherch1*, Moubassira Kagoné2, Gifty A Aninanya3, John E Williams3, Deodatus CV Kakoko4, Melkidezek T Leshabari4, Maurice Yé2, Michael Marx1 and Rainer Sauerborn1

Author Affiliations

1 Institute of Public Health, University of Heidelberg, Im Neuenheimer Feld 324, Heidelberg, 69120, Germany

2 Nouna Health Research Centre (CRSN), Nouna, Burkina Faso

3 Navrongo Health Research Centre, Navrongo, Ghana

4 School of Public Health and Social Sciences, Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

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BMC Health Services Research 2013, 13:149  doi:10.1186/1472-6963-13-149

Published: 25 April 2013



In Burkina Faso, Ghana and Tanzania strong efforts are being made to improve the quality of maternal and neonatal health (MNH) care. However, progress is impeded by challenges, especially in the area of human resources. All three countries are striving not only to scale up the number of available health staff, but also to improve performance by raising skill levels and enhancing provider motivation.


In-depth interviews were used to explore MNH provider views about motivation and incentives at primary care level in rural Burkina Faso, Ghana and Tanzania. Interviews were held with 25 MNH providers, 8 facility and district managers, and 2 policy-makers in each country.


Across the three countries some differences were found in the reasons why people became health workers. Commitment to remaining a health worker was generally high. The readiness to remain at a rural facility was far less, although in all settings there were some providers that were willing to stay. In Burkina Faso it appeared to be particularly difficult to recruit female MNH providers to rural areas. There were indications that MNH providers in all the settings sometimes failed to treat their patients well. This was shown to be interlinked with differences in how the term ‘motivation’ was understood, and in the views held about remuneration and the status of rural health work. Job satisfaction was shown to be quite high, and was particularly linked to community appreciation. With some important exceptions, there was a strong level of agreement regarding the financial and non-financial incentives that were suggested by these providers, but there were clear country preferences as to whether incentives should be for individuals or teams.


Understandings of the terms and concepts pertaining to motivation differed between the three countries. The findings from Burkina Faso underline the importance of gender-sensitive health workforce planning. The training that all levels of MNH providers receive in professional ethics, and the way this is reinforced in practice require closer attention. The differences in the findings across the three settings underscore the importance of in-depth country-level research to tailor the development of incentives schemes.

Health personnel; Motivation; Incentives; Maternal-Child health services; Developing countries