Timely access to emergency obstetric care is necessary to save the lives of women experiencing complications at delivery, and for newborn babies. Out-of-pocket costs are one of the critical factors hindering access to such services in low- and middle-income countries. This study measured out-of-pocket costs for caesarean section and neonatal care at an urban tertiary public hospital in Madagascar, assessed affordability in relation to household expenditure and investigated where families found the money to cover these costs. Data were collected for 103 women and 73 newborns at the Centre Hospitalier Universitaire de Mahajanga in the Boeny region of Madagascar between September 2007 and January 2008. Out-of-pocket costs for caesarean section were catastrophic for middle and lower socio-economic households, and treatment for neonatal complications also created a big financial burden, with geographical and other financial barriers further limiting access to hospital care. This study identified 12 possible cases where the mother required an emergency caesarean section and her newborn required emergency care, placing a double burden on the household. In an effort to make emergency obstetric and neonatal care affordable and available to all, including those living in rural areas and those of medium and lower socio-economic status, well-designed financial risk protection mechanisms and a strong commitment by the government to mobilise resources to finance the country's health system are necessary.
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