The impact of cash transfers on social determinants of health and health inequalities in sub-Saharan Africa: a systematic review

Health Policy Plan. 2018 Jun 1;33(5):675-696. doi: 10.1093/heapol/czy020.


Cash transfers (CTs) are now high on the agenda of most governments in low- and middle-income countries. Within the field of health promotion, CTs constitute a healthy public policy initiative as they have the potential to address the social determinants of health (SDoH) and health inequalities. A systematic review was conducted to synthesise the evidence on CTs' impacts on SDoH and health inequalities in sub-Saharan Africa, and to identify the barriers and facilitators of effective CTs. Twenty-one electronic databases and the websites of 14 key organizations were searched in addition to grey literature and hand searching of selected journals for quantitative and qualitative studies on CTs' impacts on SDoH and health outcomes. Out of 182 full texts screened for eligibility, 79 reports that reported findings from 53 studies were included in the final review. The studies were undertaken within 24 CTs comprising 11 unconditional CTs (UCTs), 8 conditional CTs (CCTs) and 5 combined UCTs and CCTs. The review found that CTs can be effective in tackling structural determinants of health such as financial poverty, education, household resilience, child labour, social capital and social cohesion, civic participation, and birth registration. The review further found that CTs modify intermediate determinants such as nutrition, dietary diversity, child deprivation, sexual risk behaviours, teen pregnancy and early marriage. In conjunction with their influence on SDoH, there is moderate evidence from the review that CTs impact on health and quality of life outcomes. The review also found many factors relating to intervention design features, macro-economic stability, household dynamics and community acceptance of programs that could influence the effectiveness of CTs. The external validity of the review findings is strong as the findings are largely consistent with those from Latin America. The findings thus provide useful insights to policy makers and managers and can be used to optimise CTs to reduce health inequalities.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Africa South of the Sahara
  • Developing Countries / economics
  • Financial Support*
  • Health Promotion / economics*
  • Health Services Accessibility / economics
  • Health Status Disparities*
  • Humans
  • Poverty
  • Social Determinants of Health*