Background: Africa, and sub-Saharan Africa in particular, remains one of the regions with modest improvements to maternal and newborn survival and morbidity. Good quality intrapartum and early postpartum care in a health facility as well as delivery under the supervision of trained personnel is associated with improved maternal and newborn health outcomes and decreased mortality. We describe and contrast recent time trends in the scale and socio-economic inequalities in facility-based and private facility-based childbirth in sub-Saharan Africa.
Methods: We used Demographic and Health Surveys in two time periods (2000-2007 and 2008-2016) to analyse levels and time trends in facility-based and private facility-based deliveries for all live births in the five-year survey recall period to women aged 15-49. Household wealth quintiles were used for equity analysis. Absolute numbers of births by facility sector were calculated applying UN Population Division crude birth rates to the total country population.
Results: The percentage of all live births occurring in health facilities varied across countries (5%-85%) in 2000-2007. In 2008-2016, this ranged from 22% to 92%. The lowest percentage of all births occurring in private facilities in 2000-2007 period was in Ethiopia (0.3%) and the highest in the Democratic Republic of Congo at 20.5%. By 2008-2016, this ranged from 0.6% in Niger to 22.3% in Gabon. Overall, the growth in the absolute numbers of births in facilities outpaced the growth in the percentage of births in facilities. The largest increases in absolute numbers of births occurred in public sector facilities in all countries. Overall, the percentage of births occurring in facilities was significantly lower for poorest compared to wealthiest women. As the percentage of facility births increased in all countries over time, the extent of wealth-based differences had reduced between the two time periods in most countries (median risk ratio in 2008-2016 was 2.02). The majority of countries saw a narrowing in both the absolute and relative difference in facility-based deliveries between poorest and wealthiest.
Conclusions: The growth in facility-based deliveries, which was largely driven by the public sector, calls for increased investments in effective interventions to improve service delivery and quality of life for the mother and newborn. The goal of universal health coverage to provide better quality services can be achieved by deploying interventions that are holistic in managing and regulating the private sector to enhance performance of the health care system in its entirety rather than interventions that only target service delivery in one sector.