Pre-payment and risk pooling schemes, central to the idea of universal health coverage, should protect households from catastrophic health expenditure and impoverishment; particularly when emergency care is required. Inadequate financial protection consequent on surgical emergencies occurs despite the existence of risk-pooling schemes. This study documented the experiences and coping strategies of slum and non-slum dwellers in a southwestern metropolis of Nigeria who had undergone emergency surgery.
In-depth interviews were conducted with 31 participants (13 slums dwellers, 18 non-slum dwellers) who had recently paid for emergency surgical care in Ibadan. Patients who had experienced catastrophic health expenditure from the use of emergency surgical care were identified and people who paid for the care were purposively selected for the interviews. Using an in-depth interview guide, information on the experiences and overall coping strategies during and after the hospitalization was collected. Data were analyzed inductively using the thematic approach.
The mean age of the 31 participants (consisting of 7 men and 24 women) was 31 ± 5.6years. Apathy to savings limited the preparation for unplanned healthcare needs. Choice of hospital was determined by word of mouth, perceptions of good quality or prompt care and availability of staff. Social networks were relied on widely as a coping mechanism before and during the admission. Patients that were unable to pay experienced poor and humiliating treatment (in severe cases, incarceration). Inability to afford care was exacerbated by double billing and extraneous charges. It was opined that health care should be more affordable for all and that the current National Health Insurance Scheme, that was operating sub-optimally, should be strengthened appropriately for all to benefit.
The study highlights households’ poor attitude to health-related savings and pre-payment into a social solidarity fund to cover the costs of emergency surgical care. It also highlights the factors influencing costs of emergency surgical care and the role of social networks in mitigating the high costs of care. Improving financial protection from emergency surgical care would entail promoting a positive attitude to health-related savings, social solidarity and extending the benefits of social health insurance.