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Free Content Out-of-pocket health expenditure and debt in poor households: evidence from Cambodia

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Abstract:

Summary Objectives 

To document how out-of-pocket health expenditure can lead to debt in a poor rural area in Cambodia. Methods 

After a dengue epidemic, 72 households with a dengue patient were interviewed to document health-seeking behaviour, out-of-pocket expenditure, and how they financed such expenditure. One year later, a follow-up visit investigated how the 26 households with an initial debt had coped with it. Results 

The amount of out-of-pocket health expenditure depended mostly on where households sought care. Those who had used exclusively private providers paid on average US$103; those who combined private and public providers paid US$32, and those who used only the public hospital US$8. The households used a combination of savings, selling consumables, selling assets and borrowing money to finance this expenditure. One year later, most families with initial debts had been unable to settle these debts, and continued to pay high interest rates (range between 2.5 and 15% per month). Several households had to sell their land. Conclusions 

In Cambodia, even relatively modest out-of-pocket health expenditure frequently causes indebtedness and can lead to poverty. A credible and accessible public health system is needed to prevent catastrophic health expenditure, and to allow for other strategies, such as safety nets for the poor, to be fully effective.

Keywords: Cambodia; catastrophic health expenditure; dengue; health system; out-of-pocket expenditure; poverty; private providers

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1046/j.1365-3156.2003.01194.x

Affiliations: 1:  Médecins sans Frontières, Phnom Penh, Cambodia 2:  Department of Public Health, Institute of Tropical Medicine, Antwerp, Belgium

Publication date: February 1, 2004

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