One project study, which aimed to provide free treatment for tuberculosis patients in Burkina Faso, caught my eye because it illustrates the subtle challenges and difficulties (as well as areas of success) which arise when it comes to the practicalities of delivering healthcare which is intended to be both free and universal. The findings of the research will be vital in shaping world healthcare policies when it comes to the treatment, control and prevention of TB after the timeframe of the current Development Goals.
In the poorer countries of the world, where most people live on less than US$ 2 per day and expenditure on health care can plunge patients and their families into extreme poverty, the removal of user fees for health is seen as a matter of real urgency. Unfortunately, this is unlikely to be enough to ensure truly universal coverage.A full version of the report is here and I have provided my overview and analysis below.
The median direct costs associated with tuberculosis were estimated at 101 United States dollars (US$) per patient. These costs represented 23% of the mean annual income of a patient’s household. During the course of their care, three quarters of the interviewed patients apparently faced “catastrophic” health expenditure.
Only 2% of the patients interviewed...reported that they had received completely free tuberculosis care.The challenges above, as well as other failures in patient treatment (such as extended time periods required for diagnosis and repeat procedures) explain why the rates of TB detection and cure are lower than might be hoped given the MDG and the adoption of international recommendations for TB control. The researchers state that what are necessary are solutions which pull in all practitioners, "political decision-makers, managers of health programmes and health services" to develop meaningful responses and suggest a number of measures including the decentralisation of diagnosis and treatment so that patients do not have to travel, improving community care to enable early detection, help for the poorest households, supporting healthcare providers and also supporting patients not just financially but socially and psychologically through dialogue with former patients. They also call for a rigorous assessment of 'free' healthcare systems with a multilayered analysis of economic and social consequences aimed at fine-tuning policy, identifying and rectifying faults in the system, guaranteeing efficiency and helping (rather than exploiting or exacerbating the problems of) the most vulnerable.