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All authors contributed to the conceptualisation and design of the study. BR and SC participated in the data collection and analysis. BR wrote the first draft of this paper. SC and NM contributed to revise the draft and BR wrote the final version. All authors read and approved the final version. The authors declare that they have no competing interests.
Contracting in private sector is promoted in developing countries facing human resources shortages as a challenge to reduce maternal mortality. This study explored provision, practice, performance, barriers to execution and views about contracting in specialists for emergency obstetric care (EmOC) in rural India.
Facility survey was conducted in all secondary and tertiary public health facilities (44) in three heterogeneous districts in Maharashtra state of India. Interviews (42) were conducted with programme managers and district and block level officials and with public and private EmOC specialists. Locations of private obstetricians in the study districts were identified and mapped.
Two schemes, namely Janani Suraksha Yojana and Indian Public Health standards (IPHS) provided for contracting in EmOC specialists. The IPHS provision was chosen for use mainly due to greater sum for contracting in (US $ 30/service episode vs.300 US$/month). The positions of EmOC specialists were vacant in 83% of all facilities that hence had a potential for contracting in EmOC specialists. Private specialists were contracted in at 20% such facilities. The contracting in of specialists did not greatly increase EmOC service outputs at facilities, except in facilities with determined leadership. Contracting in specialists was useful for non emergency conditions, but not for obstetric emergencies. The contracts were more of a relational nature with poor monitoring structures. Inadequate infrastructure, longer distance to private specialists, insufficient financial provision for contracting in, and poor management capacities were barriers to effective implementation of contracting in. Dependency on the private sector was a concern among public partners while the private partners viewed contracting in as an opportunity to gain experience and credibility.
Density and geographic distribution of private specialists are important influencing factors in determining feasibility and use of contracting in for EmOC. Local circumstances dictate balance between introduction or expansion of contracts with private sector and strengthening public provisions and that neither of these disregard the need to strengthen public systems. Sustainability of contracting in arrangements, their effect on increasing coverage of EmOC services in rural areas and overlapping provisions for contracting in EmOC specialists are issues for future consideration.