Open Access Research article

A case study of outsourced primary healthcare services in Sindh, Pakistan: is this a real reform?

Sana Tanzil, Aysha Zahidie*, Adeel Ahsan, Ambreen Kazi and Babar Tasneem Shaikh

Author Affiliations

Department of Community Health Sciences, Aga Khan University, Stadium Road, 74500 Karachi, Pakistan

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BMC Health Services Research 2014, 14:277  doi:10.1186/1472-6963-14-277

Published: 25 June 2014

Abstract

Background

Since a decade, low and middle income countries have a rising trend of contracting their primary healthcare services to NGOs. In Pakistan, public sector often lacks capacity to effectively & equitably manage the healthcare services. It led the government to outsource the administration of primary health care services to a semi-autonomous government entity i.e. Peoples’ Primary Healthcare Initiative (PPHI). This small scale study has assessed the quality of healthcare services at the contracted Basic Health Units (BHUs) with the PPHI and compared it with those managed by the local district government in the province of Sindh.

Methods

A cross-sectional mix methods survey was conducted in November 2011. Two BHUs of each type were selected from the districts Karachi and Thatta in Sindh province. BHUs were selected randomly and a purposive sampling technique was used to recruit the study participants at the two study sites. Focus group discussions were conducted with patients visiting the facility while in-depth interviews were conducted with service providers. An observation based resource availability checklist was also administered.

Results

There was a significant difference between the PPHI and the district government administered BHUs with regard to infrastructure, availability of essential medicines, basic medical appliances, mini-lab facilities and vehicles for referrals. These BHUs were found to have sufficient number of trained clinical staff and no punctuality and retention issues whatsoever. The district government administered BHUs presented a dismal picture in all the aspects.

Conclusion

Out-sourcing of primary healthcare facilities has resulted in significantly improved certain aspects quality and responsiveness of primary healthcare services. This strategy is likely to achieve an efficient and perhaps an equitable healthcare delivery in low and middle income countries where governments have limited capacity to manage healthcare services.

Keywords:
Contracting; Primary health care; Basic health units; Pakistan