There have been some surprised emails going around amongst some of my colleagues in the NGO and academic community about a recent news item posted on the World Bank website. The title is ‘Lao PDR: How Free Births are Saving Women’s Lives’.
The surprise comes not from the Lao PDR government’s decision to pilot free care – more and more countries are trying this. It rather comes from the World Bank’s apparent public celebration of this approach. While it is not a first – we have seen the World Bank highlight the effectiveness of free care in countries like Sri Lanka and Malaysia before now – it is very rare. It is also very welcome and will hopefully send a message to other governments that they have the opportunity to consider submitting requests for similar support from the Bank, as well as other donor agencies, as part of their efforts to scale up access to health care.
In an effort to accelerate poor progress on saving women’s lives the Lao PDR government is piloting free facility-based maternal deliveries in two districts – Nong and Thapanthong – as part of the Health Sector Improvement Project. The World Bank says it is supporting the project – a $15 million grant was issued in 2005 and this was extended with an additional $12.4 million in May of this year.
Further details on the pilot are not easy to find. The World Bank reports that ‘the impact of the pilot is currently being studied but preliminary results suggest a significant increase in childbirths in health facilities since services being provided are for free. As such, the mothers who delivered at health facilities were at much lower risk of fatal complications.’
Any further information would be very welcome and let’s hope this is a sign of things to come from the Bank.