Working practices and incomes of health workers: evidence from an evaluation of a delivery fee exemption scheme in Ghana

Hum Resour Health. 2007 Jan 22;5:2. doi: 10.1186/1478-4491-5-2.


Background: This article describes a survey of health workers and traditional birth attendants (TBAs) which was carried out in 2005 in two regions of Ghana. The objective of the survey was to ascertain the impact of the introduction of a delivery fee exemption scheme on both health workers and those providers who were excluded from the scheme (TBAs). This formed part of an overall evaluation of the delivery fee exemption scheme. The results shed light not only on the scheme itself but also on the general productivity of a range of health workers in Ghana.

Methods: A structured questionnaire was developed, covering individual and household characteristics, working hours and practices, sources of income, and views of the exemptions scheme and general motivation. After field testing, this was administered to 374 respondents in 12 districts of Central and Volta regions. The respondents included doctors, medical assistants (MAs), public and private midwives, nurses, community health nurses (CHNs), and traditional birth attendants, both trained and untrained.

Results: Health workers were well informed about the delivery fee exemptions scheme and their responses on its impact suggest a realistic view that it was a good scheme, but one that faces serious challenges regarding financial sustainability. Concerning its impact on their morale and working conditions, the responses were broadly neutral. Most public sector workers have seen an increased workload, but counterbalanced by increased pay. TBAs have suffered, in terms of client numbers and income, while the picture for private midwives is mixed. The survey also sheds light on pay and productivity. The respondents report long working hours, with a mean of 54 hours per week for community nurses and up to 129 hours per week for MAs. Weekly reported client loads in the public sector range from a mean of 86 for nurses to 269 for doctors. Over the past two years, reported working hours have been increasing, but so have pay and allowances (for doctors, allowances now make up 66% of their total pay). The lowest paid public health worker now earns almost ten times the average gross national income (GNI) per capita, while the doctors earn 38.5 times GNI per capita. This compares well with average government pay of four times GNI per capita. Comparing pay with outputs, the relatively high number of clients reported by doctors reduces their pay differential, so that the cost per client - $1.09 - is similar to a nurse's (and lower than a private midwife's).

Conclusion: These findings show that a scheme which increases demand for public health services while also sustaining health worker income and morale, is workable, if well managed, even within the relatively constrained human resources environment of countries like Ghana. This may be linked to the fact that internal comparisons reveal Ghana's health workers to be well paid from public sector sources.