Paying the price: the cost and consequences of emergency obstetric care in Burkina Faso

Soc Sci Med. 2008 Feb;66(3):545-57. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2007.10.001. Epub 2007 Dec 3.


Substantial healthcare expenses can impoverish households or push them further into poverty. In this paper, we examine the cost of obstetric care and the social and economic consequences associated with exposure to economic shocks up to a year following the end of pregnancy in Burkina Faso. Burkina Faso is a low-income country with poor health outcomes and a poorly functioning health system. We present an inter-disciplinary analysis of an ethnographic study of 82 women nested in a prospective cohort study of 1013 women. We compare the experiences of women who survived life-threatening obstetric complications ('near-miss' events) with women who delivered without complications in hospitals. The cost of emergency obstetric care was significantly higher than the cost of care for uncomplicated delivery. Compared with women who had uncomplicated deliveries, women who survived near-miss events experienced substantial difficulties meeting the costs of care, reflecting the high cost of emergency obstetric care and the low socioeconomic status of their households. They reported more frequent sale of assets, borrowing and slower repayment of debt in the year following the expenditure. Healthcare costs consumed a large part of households' resources and women who survived near-miss events continued to spend significantly more on healthcare in the year following the event, while at the same time experiencing continued cost barriers to accessing healthcare. In-depth interviews confirm that the economic burden of emergency obstetric care contributed to severe and long-lasting consequences for women and their households. The necessity of meeting unexpectedly high costs challenged social expectations and patterns of reciprocity between husbands, wives and wider social networks, placed enormous strain on everyday survival and shaped physical, social and economic well-being in the year that followed the event. In conclusion, we consider the implications of our findings for financing mechanisms for maternity care in low-income settings.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Anthropology, Cultural
  • Burkina Faso
  • Delivery, Obstetric / economics*
  • Emergencies / economics*
  • Female
  • Financing, Personal / economics
  • Health Expenditures
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Maternal Health Services / economics*
  • Middle Aged
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications / economics*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Social Environment*