Journal Article

Initiation and continuity of maternal healthcare: Examining the role of vouchers and user-fee removal on maternal health service use in Kenya

This study explores the relationship between two health financing initiatives on women’s progression through the maternal health continuum in Kenya: a subsidized reproductive health voucher programme (2006–16) and the introduction of free maternity services in all government facilities (2013). Using cross-sectional survey data, we ran three multivariable logistic regression models examining the effects of the voucher programme, free maternity policy, health insurance and other determinants on (1) early antenatal care (ANC) initiation (first visit within the first trimester of pregnancy), (2) receiving continuous care (1+ ANC, facility birth, 1+ post-natal care (PNC) check) and (3) completing the maternal health pathway as recommended (4+ ANC, facility birth, 1+ PNC, with first check occurring within 48 h of delivery). Full implementation of the voucher programme was positively associated with receiving continuous care among users of 1+ ANC [interaction term adjusted odds ratio (aOR): 1.33, P = 0.014]. Early ANC initiation (aOR: 1.32, P = 0.001) and use of private sector ANC (aOR: 1.93, P < 0.001) were also positively associated with use of continuous care among ANC users. Among continuous care users, early ANC was associated with increased odds of completing the maternal health pathway as recommended (aOR: 3.80, P < 0.001). Higher parity was negatively associated with all three outcomes, while having health insurance was positively associated with each outcome. The impact of other sociodemographic factors such as maternal age, education, wealth quintile, urban residence, and employment varied by outcome; however, the findings generally suggest that marginalized women faced greater barriers to early ANC initiation and continuity of care. Health financing and women’s timing and source of ANC are strongly related to their subsequent progression through the maternal health pathway. To increase continuity of care and improve maternal health outcomes, policymakers must therefore focus on equitably reducing financial and other barriers to care seeking and improving quality of care throughout the continuum.