World Health Day 2018 is promoting universal health coverage. National Health Insurance Schemes (NHIS) are seen as a way to foster universal health coverage by improving access to basic, life-saving care. In malaria-endemic countries, NHIS hopefully play a role in reducing malaria mortality. For example in Nepal, malaria was among the chronic and communicable illnesses that showed increased catastrophic health expenditure over time leading to impoverishment. Health insurance was seen as a way to counteract this problem.
Although health insurance coverage in Tanzania was quite low, “a higher proportion of women with health insurance had a proper timing of 1st ANC attendance compared to their counterparts.” This enables them to access malaria prevention services and interventions.
Ghana has been operating a NHIS since 2003. Overall national coverage has been estimated at around 40%, with a greater proportion of women covered than men. The 2014 Demographic and Health and 2016 Malaria Indicator Surveys (DHS, MIS) show that around 60% of women of reproductive age have NHIS coverage. How does this translate into malaria service coverage?
In Ghana a decrease in malaria deaths was seen against a backdrop of increased admissions owing to free access to hospitalization through the NHIS, but hospital admission is not an option for all. Community case management is aimed at increasing access to and coverage of timely management of malaria and other child illnesses, but such services may not be covered by a NHIS. Since iCCM is effective in reaching children, Ghana is questioning how community based health workers can be brought into the health insurance arena.
Rwanda started its community based health insurance scheme in 2003 also and by 2013 had achieved 74% coverage. In Rwanda community malaria action teams (CMATs) were initiated in mid-2014 as platforms to deliver malaria preventive messages at village level. Among other benefits of the CMATs, an increase in community-based health insurance membership occurred,
which was also considered as a predictor of prompt and adequate care. Another study in Rwanda showed that head of household having health insurance (among other factors) was significantly associated with prompt and adequate care for presumed malaria illness.
NHIS have their own challenges in terms of affordability, community understanding of payment of premiums and availability of points of care that accept insurance or are accredited. And not all endemic countries have achieved even the modest successes of NHIS in Ghana and Rwanda. Thus health insurance offers hope for expanding universal coverage of malaria services, but health systems and community understanding and participation need to be improved for this to happen.