Donors, researchers and international agencies have made significant investments in collection of high-quality data on immunization costs, aiming to improve the efficiency and sustainability of services. However, improved quality and routine dissemination of costing information to local managers may not lead to enhanced programme performance. This study explored how district- and service-level managers can use costing information to enhance planning and management to increase immunization outputs and coverage. Data on the use of costing information in the planning and management of Zambia's immunization programme was obtained through individual and group semi-structured interviews with planners and managers at national, provincial and district levels. Document review revealed the organizational context within which managers operated. Qualitative results described managers' ability to use costing information to generate cost and efficiency indicators not provided by existing systems. These, in turn, would allow them to understand the relative cost of vaccines and other resources, increase awareness of resource use and management, benchmark against other facilities and districts, and modify strategies to improve performance. Managers indicated that costing information highlighted priorities for more efficient use of human resources, vaccines and outreach for immunization programming. Despite decentralization, there were limitations on managers' decision-making to improve programme efficiency in practice: major resource allocation decisions were made centrally and planning tools did not focus on vaccine costs. Unreliable budgets and disbursements also undermined managers' ability to use systems and information. Routine generation and use of immunization cost information may have limited impact on managing efficiency in many Zambian districts, but opportunities were evident for using existing capacity and systems to improve efficiency. Simpler approaches, such as improving reliability and use of routine immunization and staffing indicators, drawing on general insights from periodic costing studies, and focusing on maximizing coverage with available resources, may be more feasible in the short-term.
Keywords: Routine immunization; Zambia; costing; decentralization; decentralized planning and decision-making; immunization programmes.
© The Author(s) 2019. Published by Oxford University Press in association with The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.