Open Access Open Badges Research article

Assessing health workers’ revenues and coping strategies in Nigeria — a mixed-methods study

Ngozi Akwataghibe15*, Dulani Samaranayake2, Christophe Lemiere3 and Marjolein Dieleman4

Author Affiliations

1 ENAULD Health Research and Services, The Hague, Netherlands

2 Department of Community Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, University of Colombo, Colombo, Sri Lanka

3 The World Bank, Africa Region, Africa

4 Royal Tropical Institute, Amsterdam, Netherlands

5 Koningin Julianaweg 101, 2264, BC Leidschendam, The Netherlands

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BMC Health Services Research 2013, 13:387  doi:10.1186/1472-6963-13-387

Published: 4 October 2013



The setting of realistic performance-based financing rewards necessitates not just knowledge of health workers’ salaries, but of the revenue that accrues from their additional income-generating activities. This study examined the coping mechanisms of health workers in the public health sector of Nasarawa and Ondo states in Nigeria to supplement their salaries and benefits; it also estimated the proportionate value of the revenues from those coping mechanisms in relation to the health workers’ official incomes.


This study adopted a mixed-methods approach, consisting of semi-structured interviews, a review of policy documents, a survey using self-administered questionnaires, and the randomized response technique (RRT). In all, 170 health workers (86 in Ondo, 84 in Nasarawa) participated in the survey. In-depth interviews were conducted with 24 health workers (12 per state) and nine policy makers from both states.


The health workers perceived their salaries as inadequate, though most policy makers differed in this assessment. There appeared to be a considerable expenditure–income disparity among the respondents. Approximately 56% (n = 93) of the study population reported having additional earning arrangements: most reported non-medical activities such as farming and trading, but private practice was also frequently reported.

Half of the respondents with additional earning arrangements stated that their income from those activities was the equivalent of half or more of their monthly salaries. Specifically, 35% (n = 32) said that they earned about half of their official monthly salaries and 15% (n = 14) reported earning the same or more than their monthly salaries from these activities. Other coping mechanisms used by the health workers included prioritizing activities that enabled the earning of per diems, collecting informal payments and gifts from patients, and pilfering drugs from facilities.


Predatory and non-predatory mechanisms accounted for the health workers’ additional income. It may be difficult for the health workers to meet their expenses with their salaries and financial incentives; this highlights the need for the regulation of additional earnings and to implement targeted accountability mechanisms. This study indicates the value of using mixed methods when investigating sensitive issues. Future studies of this type should employ mixed methods for triangulation purposes to provide better insight into health workers’ responses.

Salaries; Coping mechanisms; Health workers; Mixed methods; Randomized response technique