Understanding variations in catastrophic health expenditure, its underlying determinants and impoverishment in Sub-Saharan African countries: A scoping review

P. Njagi*, J. Arsenijevic, W. Groot

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journal(Systematic) Review article peer-review


Background: To assess the financial burden due to out of pocket (OOP) payments, two mutually exclusive approaches have been used: catastrophic health expenditure (CHE) and impoverishment. Sub-Saharan African (SSA) countries primarily rely on OOP and are thus challenged with providing financial protection to the populations. To understand the variations in CHE and impoverishment in SSA, and the underlying determinants of CHE, a scoping review of the existing evidence was conducted. Methods: This review is guided by Arksey and O'Malley scoping review framework. A search was conducted in several databases including PubMed, EBSCO (EconLit, PsychoInfo, CINAHL), Web of Science, Jstor and virtual libraries of the World Health Organizations (WHO) and the World Bank. The primary outcome of interest was catastrophic health expenditure/impoverishment, while the secondary outcome was the associated risk factors. Results: Thirty-four (34) studies that met the inclusion criteria were fully assessed. CHE was higher amongst West African countries and amongst patients receiving treatment for HIV/ART, TB, malaria and chronic illnesses. Risk factors associated with CHE included household economic status, type of health provider, socio-demographic characteristics of household members, type of illness, social insurance schemes, geographical location and household size/composition. The proportion of households that are impoverished has increased over time across countries and also within the countries. Conclusion: This review demonstrated that CHE/impoverishment is pervasive in SSA, and the magnitude varies across and within countries and over time. Socio-economic factors are seen to drive CHE with the poor being the most affected, and they vary across countries. This calls for intensifying health policies and financing structures in SSA, to provide equitable access to all populations especially the most poor and vulnerable. There is a need to innovate and draw lessons from the 'informal' social networks/schemes as they are reported to be more effective in cushioning the financial burden.
Original languageEnglish
Article number136
Number of pages23
JournalSystematic Reviews
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 11 Sept 2018

JEL classifications

  • i39 - Welfare and Poverty: Other
  • i14 - Health and Inequality


  • Catastrophic health expenditure
  • Impoverishment
  • Out of pocket payments
  • Scoping review
  • Sub-Saharan Africa
  • CARE

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