Background: Demand-side financing projects are now being implemented in many developing countries, yet evidence showing that they reach the poor is scanty.
Methods: A maternal health voucher scheme provided voucher-paid services in Jhang, a predominantly rural district of Pakistan, during 2010. A pre-test/post-test quasi-experimental design was used to assess the changes in the proportion of facility-based deliveries and related maternal health services among the poor. Household interviews were conducted with randomly selected women in the intervention and control union councils, before and after the intervention.A strong outreach model was used. Voucher promoters were given basic training in identification of poor women using the Poverty Scorecard for Pakistan, in the types of problems women could face during delivery, and in the promotion of antenatal care (ANC), institutional delivery and postnatal care (PNC). Voucher booklets valued at Rs. 4,000 ($48), including three ANC visits, a PNC visit, an institutional delivery, and a postnatal family planning visit, were sold for Rs. 100 ($1.2) to low-income women targeted by project outreach workers. Women suffering from complications were referred to emergency obstetric care services.Analysis was conducted at the bivariate and the multivariate levels. At the multivariate level, logistic regression analysis was conducted to determine whether the increase in institutional delivery was greater among poor women (defined for this study as women in the fourth or fifth quintiles) relative to non-poor women (defined for this study as women in the first quintile) in the intervention union councils compared to the control union councils.
Results: Bivariate analysis showed significant increases in the institutional delivery rate among women in the fourth or fifth wealth quintiles in the intervention union councils but no significant changes in this indicator among women in the same wealth quintiles in the control union councils. Multivariate analysis showed that the increase in institutional delivery among poor women relative to non-poor women was significantly greater in the intervention compared to the control union councils.
Conclusions: Demand-side financing projects using vouchers can be an effective way of reducing inequities in institutional delivery.