The extent to which performance-based financing programs' operations manuals reflect rights-based principles: Implications for family planning services

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Article (peer-reviewed)

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Recognition is growing that development programs need to be guided by rights as well as to promote, protect, and fulfill them. Drawing from a content analysis of performance-based financing (PBF) implementation manuals, we quantify the extent to which these manuals use a rights perspective to frame family planning services. PBF is an adaptable service purchasing strategy that aims to improve equity and quality of health service provision. PBF can contribute toward achieving global family planning goals and has institutional support from multiple development partners including the Global Financing Facility in support of Every Woman Every Child. A review of 23 PBF implementation manuals finds that all documents are focused largely on the implementation of quality and accountability mechanisms, but few address issues of accessibility, availability, informed choice, acceptability, and/or nondiscrimination and equity. Notably, operational inclusion of agency, autonomy, empowerment, and/or voluntarism of health care clients is absent. Based on these findings, we argue that current PBF programs incorporate some mention of rights but are not systematically aligned with a rights-based approach. If PBF programs better reflected the importance of client-centered, rights-based programming, program performance could be improved and risk of infringing rights could be reduced. Given the mixed evidence for PBF benefits and the risk of perverse incentives in earlier PBF programs that were not aligned with rights-based approaches, we argue that greater attention to the rights principles of acceptability, accessibility, availability, and quality; accountability; agency and empowerment; equity and nondiscrimination; informed choice and decision making; participation; and privacy and confidentiality would improve health service delivery and health system performance for all stakeholders with clients at the center. Based on this review, we recommend making the rights-based approach explicit in PBF; progressively operationalizing rights, drawing from local experience; validating rights-based metrics to address measurement gaps; and recognizing the economic value of aligning PBF with rights principles. Such recommendations anchor an aspirational rights agenda with a practical PBF strategy on the need and opportunity for validated metrics.