Coping with the Supply-Side Effects of Free Maternal Healthcare Policies in Seven sub-Saharan African Countries: A Systematic Review

Gordon Dugle, Shannon Rutherford


Free maternal healthcare policies (FMHP) result in enormous supply-side effects on care delivery in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). This review synthesises the mechanisms adopted by supply-side actors to cope with the effects of FMHP and the results of coping mechanisms on policy objectives in seven SSA countries. We searched bibliographic databases for articles published in English for research that reported supply-side effects of FMHP, coping mechanisms, and effects of various coping mechanisms on attainment of reform objectives. Out of 215 studies identified, nine qualified for inclusion. Selected studies were exploratory in design and based on either mixed or qualitative methods. While local health system authorities and health facilities coping mechanisms that were intended to enhance implementation, facility managers and staff engaged in self-interest adaptation decisions and behaviours. Lack of explicit policy commitment to enhancing organisational and managerial capacity of local health authorities contribute to sustaining negative supply-side effects and adverse coping mechanisms. Without due consideration to governance and health system strengthening, FMHP are prone to perverse outcomes that undermine intended benefits. Context-specific empirical studies are needed to further conceptualise the supply-side effect – coping mechanism – consequential effect nexus of the policy. (Afr J Reprod Health 2019; 23[1]: 46-54).

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