Demand-side financing (DSF) interventions, including cash transfers and vouchers, have been introduced to promote maternal and newborn health in a range of low- and middle-income countries. These interventions vary in design but have typically been used to increase health service utilisation by offsetting some financial costs for users, or increasing household income and incentivising ‘healthy behaviours’. This article documents experiences and implementation factors associated with use of DSF in maternal and newborn health.
A secondary analysis (using an adapted Supporting the Use of Research Evidence framework – SURE) was performed on studies that had previously been identified in a systematic review of evidence on DSF interventions in maternal and newborn health.
The article draws on findings from 49 quantitative and 49 qualitative studies. The studies give insights on difficulties with exclusion of migrants, young and multiparous women, with demands for informal fees at facilities, and with challenges maintaining quality of care under increasing demand. Schemes experienced difficulties if communities faced long distances to reach participating facilities and poor access to transport, and where there was inadequate health infrastructure and human resources, shortages of medicines and problems with corruption. Studies that documented improved care-seeking indicated the importance of adequate programme scope (in terms of programme eligibility, size and timing of payments and voucher entitlements) to address the issue of concern, concurrent investments in supply-side capacity to sustain and/or improve quality of care, and awareness generation using community-based workers, leaders and women’s groups.
Evaluations spanning more than 15 years of implementation of DSF programmes reveal a complex picture of experiences that reflect the importance of financial and other social, geographical and health systems factors as barriers to accessing care. Careful design of DSF programmes as part of broader maternal and newborn health initiatives would need to take into account these barriers, the behaviours of staff and the quality of care in health facilities. Research is still needed on the policy context for DSF schemes in order to understand how they become sustainable and where they fit, or do not fit, with plans to achieve equitable universal health coverage.