Open Access Research article

The experiences of districts in implementing a national incentive programme to promote safe delivery in Nepal

Timothy Powell-Jackson1*, Joanna Morrison2, Suresh Tiwari3, Basu Dev Neupane4 and Anthony M Costello2

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Public Health and Policy, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Keppel Street, London, UK

2 Centre for International Health and Development, Institute of Child Health, University College London, London, UK

3 Support to Safe Motherhood Programme, Kathmandu, Nepal

4 Independent Consultant, Kathmandu, Nepal

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BMC Health Services Research 2009, 9:97  doi:10.1186/1472-6963-9-97

Published: 9 June 2009



Nepal's Safe Delivery Incentive Programme (SDIP) was introduced nationwide in 2005 with the intention of increasing utilisation of professional care at childbirth. It provided cash to women giving birth in a health facility and an incentive to the health provider for each delivery attended, either at home or in the facility. We explored early implementation of the programme at the district-level to understand the factors that have contributed to its low uptake.


We conducted in ten study districts a series of key informant interviews and focus group discussions with staff from health facilities and the district health office and other stakeholders involved in implementation. Manual content analysis was used to categorise data under emerging themes.


Problems at the central level imposed severe constraints on the ability of district-level actors to implement the programme. These included bureaucratic delays in the disbursement of funds, difficulties in communicating the policy, both to implementers and the wider public and the complexity of the programme's design. However, some district implementers were able to cope with these problems, providing reasons for why uptake of the programme varied considerably between districts. Actions appeared to be influenced by the pressure to meet local needs, as well individual perceptions and acceptance of the programme. The experience also sheds light on some of the adverse effects of the programme on the wider health system.


The success of conditional cash transfer programmes in Latin America has led to a wave of enthusiasm for their adoption in other parts of the world. However, context matters and proponents of similar programmes in south Asia should give due attention to the challenges to implementation when capacity is weak and health services inadequate.