Background This study evaluated the effects on healthcare access inequities of an intervention exempting children under 5 years from user fees in Burkina Faso.
Methods The design consisted of two complementary studies. The first was an interrupted time series (56 months before and 12 months after) study of daily curative consultations according to distance (<5, 5–9 and ≥10 km) in a stratified random sample of 18 health centres: 12 with the intervention and 6 without. The second was a household panel survey (n=1214) assessing the evolution of health-seeking behaviours. Multilevel regression was used throughout.
Results Attendance doubled under the intervention, after adjusting for Centres de Santé et de Promotion Sociale size, districts, secular trend and seasonal variation. Utilisation increased for all distance ranges and in all of the 12 health centres of the intervention area. The exemption benefited all children (rate ratios (RR)=1.52 (1.23 to 1.88)), whether their health needs were high (RR=1.69 (1.22 to 2.32)) or not (RR=1.46 (1.10 to 1.93)) and whether the children lived near (RR=1.42 (1.09 to 1.85)) or far from a health centre (RR=1.79 (1.31 to 2.43)). The exemption benefited the children of poor families when health need was high and services near (RR=5.23; (1.30 to 20.99)). The amount saved for a child's treatment by the exemption was on average and median 2500 F CFA (≈US$5).
Conclusions Exempting children under five from user fees is effective and helps reduce inequities of access. It benefits vulnerable populations, although their service utilisation remains constrained by limitations in geographic accessibility of services.
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