Examining the implementation of the Linda Mama free maternity program in Kenya

Orangi S, Kairu A, Ondera J, Mbuthia B, Koduah A, Oyugi B, Ravishankar N, Barasa E
Int J Health Plann Manage. 2021;36

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BACKGROUND: In 2013, Kenya introduced a free maternity policy in all public healthcare facilities. In 2016, the Ministry of Health shifted responsibility for the program, now called Linda Mama, to the National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF) and expanded access beyond public sector. This study aimed to examine the implementation of the Linda Mama program. METHODS: We conducted a mixed-methods cross-sectional study at the national level and in 20 purposively sampled facilities across five counties in Kenya. We collected data using in-depth interviews (n = 104), administered patient-exit questionnaires (n = 108), and carried out document reviews. Qualitative data were analysed using a framework approach while quantitative data were analysed descriptively. RESULTS: Linda Mama was designed and resulted in improved accountability and expand benefits. In practice however, beneficiaries did not access some services that were part of the revised benefit package. Second, out of pocket payments were still being incurred by beneficiaries. Health facilities in most counties had lost financial autonomy and had no access to reimbursements from NHIF for services provided; but those with financial autonomy were able to boost facility revenue and enhance service delivery. Further, fund disbursements from NHIF were characterised by delays and unpredictability. Implementation experiences reveal that there was inadequate communication, claim processing challenges and reimbursement rates were deemed insufficient. CONCLUSIONS: Our findings show that there are challenges associated with the implementation of the Linda Mama program and highlights the need for process evaluations for programs to track implementation, ensure continuous learning, and provide opportunities for course correcting programs' implementation.