Can social accountability improve access to free public health care for the poor? Analysis of three Health Equity Fund configurations in Cambodia, 2015-17

Bart Jacobs, Bart Jacobs, Sam Sam Oeun, Por Ir, Susan Rifkin, Wim Van Damme

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Within the context of universal health coverage, community participation has been identified as instrumental to facilitate access to health services. Social accountability whereby citizens hold providers and policymakers accountable is one popular approach. This article describes one example, that of Community-Managed Health Equity Funds (CMHEFs), as an approach to community engagement in Cambodia to improve poor people's use of their entitlement to fee-free health care at public health facilities. The objectives of this article are to describe the size of its operations and its ability to enable poor people continued access to health care. Using data collected routinely, we compare the uptake of curative health services by eligible poor people under three configurations of Health Equity Funds (HEFs) during a 24-month period (July 2015-June 2017): Standard HEF that operated without community engagement, Mature CMHEFs established years before the study period and New CMHEFs initiated just before the study period. One year within the study, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) stopped operating the HEF nationwide and only the community-participation aspects of New CMHEF continued receiving technical assistance from an NGO. Using utilization figures for curative services by non-poor people for comparison, following the cessation of HEF management by the NGOs, outpatient consultation figures declined for all three configurations in comparison with the year before but only significantly for Standard HEF. The three HEF configurations experienced a highly statistically significant reduction in monthly inpatient admissions following halting of NGO management of HEFs. This study shows that enhancing access to free health care through social accountability is optimized at health centres through engagement of a wide range of community representatives. Such effect at hospitals was only observed to a limited extent, suggesting the need for more engagement of hospital management authorities in social accountability mechanisms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)635-645
Number of pages11
JournalHealth policy and planning
Issue number6
StatePublished - May 25 2020


  • Health Equity Funds
  • access
  • community participation
  • social accountability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


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