OBJECTIVE To estimate out-of-pocket medical expenses to women and families for maternity care at all levels of the health system in Burkina Faso, Kenya and Tanzania. METHODS In a population-based survey in 2003, 6345 women who had given birth in the previous 24 months were interviewed about the costs incurred during childbirth. Three years later, in 2006, an additional 8302 women with recent deliveries were interviewed in the same districts to explore their maternity care-seeking experiences and associated costs.
Findings: The majority of women interviewed reported paying out-of-pocket costs for facility-based deliveries. Out-of-pocket costs were highest in Kenya (a mean of US$18.4 for normal and complicated deliveries), where 98% of women who delivered in a health facility had to pay some fees. In Burkina Faso, 92% of women reported paying some fees (mean of US$7.9). Costs were lowest in Tanzania, where 91% of women reported paying some fees (mean of US$5.1). In all three countries, women in the poorest wealth quintile did not pay significantly less for maternity costs than the wealthiest women. Costs for complicated delivery were double those for normal delivery in Burkina Faso and Kenya, and represented more than 16% of mean monthly household income in Burkina Faso, and 35% in Kenya. In Tanzania and Burkina Faso most institutional births were at mid-level government health facilities (health centres or dispensaries). In contrast, in Kenya, 42% of births were at government hospitals, and 28% were at private or mission facilities, contributing to the overall higher costs in this country compared with Burkina Faso and Tanzania. However, among women delivering in government health facilities in Kenya, reported out-of-pocket costs were significantly lower in 2006 than in 2003, indicating that a 2004 national policy eliminating user fees at mid- and lower-level government health facilities was having some impact.