Health care provider choice: the North West Province of Cameroon

A C Tembon
International Journal of Health Planning and Management 1996, 11 (1): 53-67
Health care is provided in many developing countries free of any charge at the point of delivery. This is attributed to the fact that health care is one of the basic human rights. While modern health care in public health units is free, patients in rural areas continue to use either self-care, traditional healers or both. In Cameroon, the idea of integrating traditional and modern medical practices is discussed by both traditional and medical practitioners. However, it is not very clear what influences the household's choice of one or the other. Within a health district, where there are many providers, the question as to whether or not there is a possibility of choice open to all is posed. This article reports on a study undertaken in a rural health district that shows that there are many factors that influence the choice of health care. Among these factors is quality of care which is the most important factor influencing the choice of health care provider. As quality of care increases in governmental health centres, their choice probability also increases. Other factors include: the time spent seeking treatment; household income and size; distance; and, cost of health care. Those with higher incomes tend to choose private health units and those with larger families tend to choose government health units. Other socio-cultural factors, difficult to model, appear to also influence the choice of providers. It is concluded that since household income influences the choice of private health units, policies targeting poverty alleviation should be instituted in the rural areas to provide households with income. This will enable them widened access to private health care and enable government to redeploy its scarce resources to maintain and extend services to needy areas.

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