Objective: To compare the quality of public and private first-tier antenatal care services in Dar es Salaam, United Republic of Tanzania, using defined criteria.
Methods: Structural attributes of quality were assessed through a checklist, and process attributes, including interpersonal and technical aspects, through observation and exit interviews. A total of 16 health care providers, and 166 women in the public and 188 in the private sector, were selected by systematic random sampling for inclusion in the study. Quality was measured against national standards, and an overall score calculated for the different aspects to permit comparison.
Findings: The results showed that both public and private providers were reasonably good with regard to the structural and interpersonal aspects of quality of care. However, both were poor when it came to technical aspects of quality. For example, guidelines for dispensing prophylactic drugs against anaemia or malaria were not respected, and diagnostic examinations for the assessment of gestation, anaemia, malaria or urine infection were frequently not performed. In all aspects, private providers were significantly better than public ones.
Conclusion: Approaches to improving quality of care should emerge progressively as a result of regular quality assessments. Changes should be introduced using an incremental approach addressing few improvements at a time, while ensuring participation in, and ownership of, every aspect of the strategy by health personnel, health planners and managers and also the community.