Summary Objectives To present first findings of a cost-of-illness (COI) information system implemented in Nouna health district, Burkina Faso. The entire project will include household and provider tangible COI, whereas this article concentrates on the development of a provider cost information system in rural first-line health facilities. Method Special forms and reports are prepared to routinely collect capital and recurrent costs of first-line facilities. Inventory lists are designed, and buildings and equipment are assessed by engineers. Total, fixed, variable and average costs are calculated for 15 rural health centres with five cost centres: general outpatient consultation, ambulatory nursing care, deliveries, immunization and other services (neonatal consultation, child care and family planning). Results In 2003, the average costs per service unit were 1.34 US$ for a general consultation, 0.51 US$ for ambulatory nursing care, 6.73 US$ per delivery, 3.64 US$ per vaccination and 1.11 US$ per service unit of other care. On average, a health centre consumes 29 900 US$ per year for a catchment population of 10 000 inhabitants. Conclusions The major share of costs is fixed and does not depend on the workload of the health centre. Consequently, the costs of first-line facilities will hardly increase if the demand for health services rises. These findings can be used to improve the health financing in Nouna health district, Burkina Faso.