Bulletin of the World Health Organization
Volume 90, Number 8, August 2012, 557-632
Performance-based financing in low- and middle-income countries: still more questions than answers
- Atle Fretheim et al.
Performance-based financing is promoted as a promising strategy for improving health service delivery and helping to reach the Millennium Development Goals.1,2 But what is the evidence supporting its use?
Performance-based financing may be defined as “the transfer of money or material goods conditional on taking a measurable action or achieving a predetermined performance target”.2 We recently conducted a Cochrane review of the available evidence on the effectiveness of performance-based financing in low- and middle- income countries.3 Nine studies, of which fewer than half had been published in scientific journals, fulfilled our inclusion criteria: one randomized controlled trial (RCT) and two interrupted time series conducted in Asia, and six controlled before–after studies conducted in Africa. Only two outcomes related to health care utilization – institutional deliveries and antenatal care – were assessed in more than one trial. Inconsistent results across studies made summarizing and interpreting the evidence difficult.
The most rigorous African study reported a moderate increase in institutional deliveries, from around 35% to 42% (i.e. 7 percentage points; 95% confidence interval, CI: 1–14).4 Findings from studies in Burundi,5 the Democratic Republic of the Congo6 and Rwanda7 showed disparate findings: one reported a significant increase in institutional deliveries, another found little or no change and the third showed a significant decrease. For these findings the risk of bias is high, partly because intervention and control areas were not randomly allocated and the same people who implemented the programmes also evaluated them. Two additional studies reporting on institutional deliveries were programme evaluations with a substantial risk of bias due to questionable data quality. The results on antenatal care attendance were also heterogeneous.
These findings clearly show that no general conclusion can be drawn regarding the likely impact of performance-based financing in low-and middle-income countries. For one thing, most of the studies found through the review were methodologically weak and had poor internal validity. Furthermore, since the impact of complex interventions such as performance-based financing depends largely on the context in which they are implemented, results may vary. Finally, the studies differed substantially in the way in which the performance-based financing scheme was designed and implemented…”