Objectives The objectives of this study were to assess the cost-effectiveness of a skilled attendance strategy (the Skilled Care Initiative, SCI) in enhancing maternal health care in a remote, rural district of Burkina Faso and to analyse more broadly the costs and cost patterns of maternal health provision in the intervention and comparison districts.
Methods The approach used was to cost the standard provision of maternal care, to analyse the main cost structures, and to derive cost estimates per facility. The additional costs attributable to SCI were identified. Several measures of cost-effectiveness or performance were calculated, including cost per delivery and utilisation.
Results If the increase in deliveries in Ouargaye between 2004 and 2005 is attributed solely to the stimulus of demand for skilled care by the SCI community mobilisation and behavioural communication change activities, the incremental cost per delivery was $164 international dollars. This compares with an average cost per delivery in Health Centres across the two districts of $214 international dollars. However, if a broader measure of SCI costs is used, the incremental cost per delivery increases markedly, to $1306 international dollars. At the level of individual Health Centres, utilisation is a better measure of performance than cost per delivery and Health Centres in Ouargaye are utilised more than in Diapaga.
Conclusions Demand side actions, such as community mobilisation and behavioural communication change activities, can be as important in improving skilled care at delivery as investment in health facilities, assuming there is some spare capacity, as has been the case in Burkina Faso. These conclusions have important potential implications for planning and resource allocation to achieve safer delivery for all women in Burkina Faso.