Looking at the bigger picture: Effect of performance-based contracting of district health services on equity of access to maternal health services in Zambia

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Article (peer-reviewed)

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Zambia has been using output-based approaches for over two decades to finance whole or part of the public health system. Between 1996 and 2006, performance-based contracting (PBC) was implemented countrywide with the Central Board of Health (CBoH) as the provider of health services. This study reviews the association between PBC and equity of access to maternal health services in Zambia between 1996 and 2006. A comprehensive document review was undertaken to evaluate the implementation process, followed by a trend analysis of health expenditure at district level, and a segmented regression analysis of data on antenatal care (ANC) and deliveries at health facilities that was obtained from five demographic and health survey datasets (1992, 1996, 2002, 2007 and 2014). The results show that PBC was anchored by high-level political support, an overarching policy and legal framework, and collective planning and implementation with all key stakeholders. Decentralization of health service provision was also an enabling factor. ANC coverage increased in both the lower and upper wealth quintiles during the PBC era, followed by a declining trend after the PBC era in both quintiles. Further, the percentage of women delivering at health facilities increased during the PBC era, particularly in rural areas and among the poor. The positive trend continued after the PBC era with similar patterns in both lower and upper wealth quintiles. Despite these gains, per capita health expenditure at district level declined during the PBC era, with the situation worsening after the PBC era. The study concludes that a nationwide PBC approach can contribute to improved equity of access to maternal health services and that PBC is a cost-efficient and sustainable policy reform. The study calls for policymakers to comprehensively evaluate the impact of health system reforms before terminating them.