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The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/1472-6963-12-412) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
The authors declare that they have no competing interests.
VR and LQ were in charge of the original study design. VR, AB and ABA designed the data collection tools. AB, ABA and LQ were responsible for data collection. AB, ABA, MGI and VR conducted the data analysis. All authors contributed to the interpretation of the results. ABA, MGI and VR wrote the manuscript with contributions from all authors. All authors had full access to all of the data (including statistical reports and tables) in the study and can take responsibility for the integrity of the data and the accuracy of the data analysis. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.
In 2006, the Parliament of Burkina Faso passed a policy to reduce the direct costs of obstetric services and neonatal care in the country’s health centres, aiming to lower the country’s high national maternal mortality and morbidity rates. Implementation was via a “partial exemption” covering 80% of the costs. In 2008 the German NGO HELP launched a pilot project in two health districts to eliminate the remaining 20% of user fees. Regardless of any exemptions, women giving birth in Burkina Faso’s health centres face additional expenses that often represent an additional barrier to accessing health services. We compared the total cost of giving birth in health centres offering partial exemption versus those with full exemption to assess the impact on additional out-of-pocket fees.
A case–control study was performed to compare medical expenses. Case subjects were women who gave birth in 12 health centres located in the Dori and Sebba districts, where HELP provided full fee exemption for obstetric services and neonatal care. Controls were from six health centres in the neighbouring Djibo district where a partial fee exemption was in place. A random sample of approximately 50 women per health centre was selected for a total of 870 women.
There was an implementation gap regarding the full exemption for obstetric services and neonatal care. Only 1.1% of the sample from Sebba but 17.5% of the group from Dori had excessive spending on birth related costs, indicating that women who delivered in Sebba were much less exposed to excessive medical expenses than women from Dori. Additional out-of-pocket fees in the full exemption health districts took into account household ability to pay, with poorer women generally paying less.
We found that the elimination of fees for facility-based births benefits especially the poorest households. The existence of excessive spending related to direct costs of giving birth is of concern, making it urgent for the government to remove all direct fees for obstetric and neonatal care. However, the policy of completely abolishing user fees is insufficient; the implementation process must have a thorough monitoring system to reduce implementation gaps.