User fees plus quality equals improved access to health care: Results of a field experiment in Cameroon
Since the Bamako Initiative was launched in 1988, many African countries have embarked on comprehensive primary health care programs relying, at least partially, on revenues generated through user fees to revitalize health care delivery systems. Although these programs contain two critical components, user fees and improved quality, policy debates have tended to focus on the former and disregarded the latter. The purpose of this study is to provide a net assessment of these two components by testing how user fees and improved quality affect health facility utilization among the overall population and specifically among the poorest people. A "pretest-posttest controlled" experiment was conducted in five public health facilities in the Adamaoua province of Cameroon. Three health centers which were to introduce a user fee and quality improvement (i.e. reliable drug supply) policy were selected as "treatment" centers and two comparable facilities not yet phased into this policy were selected as "controls". Two rounds of household surveys were conducted (each to 800 households in 25 villages surrounding the five study sites) to measure the percentage of ill people seeking care at the health center before and after the implementation of the policy. The experiment was tightly controlled by conducting monthly observations at each study site. Results indicate that the probability of using the health center increased significantly for people in the "treatment" areas compared to those in the "control" areas. Travel and time costs involved in seeking alternative sources of care are high; when good quality drugs became available at the local health center, the fee charged for care and treatment represented an effective reduction in the price of care and thus utilization rose. Moreover, contrary to previous studies which have found that the poorest quintile is most hurt by user fees, this study found that probability of the poorest quintile seeking care increases at a rate proportionately greater than the rest of the population. Since the poor are most responsive to price changes, they appear to be benefitting from local availability of drugs more than others.
Volume (Year): 37 (1993)
Issue (Month): 3 (August)
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