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Coping strategies of health personnel during economic crisis: A case study from Cameroon

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OBJECTIVES   Severe economic crisis compelled many governments in Sub-Saharan Africa to adopt structural adjustment programmes. This was accompanied by price increases and cuts in the salaries of civil servants. We explored how health personnel in one province of Cameroon coped with this situation, and what the perceived effects on service quality were.

METHODS   Key informant and focus group interviews with government and mission (church) health personnel; interviews with service users to validate the findings.

RESULTS   Government health personnel had experienced larger cuts in salaries than their mission counterparts; they no longer received allowances and incentives still available to mission personnel and appeared more demotivated. Most government and mission personnel reported legal after-hours income raising activities. Government personnel frequently reported additional ‘survival strategies’ such as parallel selling of drugs, requesting extra charges for services, and running private practices during work hours. There was a high level of self criticism among government personnel indicating a dissonance between their attitude and practices. They considered these practices negative and harmful for service users.

CONCLUSION   Remedial action is urgent. Options include reinstating allowances for good performance and ensuring regular supervision without blaming individual health workers for problems caused by the state of the health system.

Keywords: Cameroon; health services; structural adjustment programme; sub-Saharan Africa

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Department of Community Health Sciences, The Aga Khan University, Karachi, Pakistan 2: Department of Tropical Hygiene and Public Health, University of Heidelberg, Germany 3: Ministry of Health, Yaounde, Cameroon 4: German Agency for Technical Co-operation (GTZ), Cameroon

Publication date: April 1, 2000

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