The Effect of Absenteeism and Clinic Protocol on Health Outcomes: The Case of Mother-to-Child Transmission of HIV in Kenya

Am Econ J Appl Econ. 2013;5(2):58-85. doi: 10.1257/app.5.2.58.


Absenteeism of health workers in developing countries is widespread with some estimates indicating rates of provider absence of nearly 40% (Chaudhury et. al. 2006). This is the first paper to present evidence of the impact of health provider absence combined with limitations in health clinic protocol on health outcomes. Using longitudinal data from nearly 600 ante-natal care seekers at a rural ante-natal clinic in Western Kenya, we find that nurse absence on a patient's first visit significantly reduces the probability that a woman tests for HIV over her entire pregnancy. Since the benefits of PMTCT services depend on HIV status, we proxy HIV status with self-reported pre-test expectations of being HIV-positive and estimate the heterogeneous impact of absence based on these self-reported expectations. We find that women with a high pre-test expectation of testing HIV-positive and whose first ANC visit coincides with nurse attendance are 25 percentage points more likely to deliver in a hospital or health center, 7.4 percentage points more likely to receive PMTCT medication, 9 percentage points less likely to breastfeed and 10 percentage points more likely to enroll in the free AIDS treatment program at the clinic than similar women whose first visit coincides with nurse absence. The procedural shortcomings in our study setting, shortcomings that do not enable pregnant women to test on a subsequent clinic visit, appear common in other countries in sub-Saharan Africa. They suggest that nurse absence in the context of this medical system translates into sizable reductions in child and maternal health.