This study was just published in the Social Science & Medecine Journal. The authors, Oumar Mallé Samb and Valéry Ridde aimed to illustrate the transformative effect that eliminating fees for obstetric care can have on women’s capability to make health decisions and their social position.
In March 2006, the government of Burkina Faso implemented an 80% subsidy for emergency obstetric and neonatal care (EmONC). To complement this subsidy, an NGO decided to cover the remaining 20% in two districts of the country, making EmONC completely free for women there. In addition, the NGO instituted fee exemptions for children under five years of age in those two districts. We conducted a qualitative study in 2011 to examine the impact of these free healthcare interventions on women’s capability. We conducted semi-structured interviews with 40 women, 16 members of health centre management committees, and eight healthcare workers in three health districts, as well as a documentary analysis. Results showed free healthcare helped reinforce women’s capability to make health decisions by eliminating the need for them to negotiate access to household resources, which in turn helped shorten delays in health services use. Other effects were also observed, such as increased self-esteem among the women and greater respect within their marital relationship. However, cultural barriers remained, limiting women’s capability to achieve certain things they valued, such as contraception. In conclusion, this study’s results illustrate the transformative effect that eliminating fees for obstetric care can have on women’s capability to make health decisions and their social position. Furthermore, if women’s capability is to be strengthened, the results impel us to go beyond health and to organize social and economic policies to reinforce their positions in other spheres of social life.
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