The costs, effects and cost-effectiveness of a new mobile maternal care service offered in The Gambia at a government-run health centre in Karantaba were compared with the usual pattern of maternal care offered at Ngayen Sanjal). Routinely collected data were supplemented by research on time allocation of staff by activity, use of drugs, medical consumables and vehicles, out-of-pocket payments by patients and a range of effectiveness indicators. To account for a differential effect on hospital referrals, maternity care at the main referral hospital was assessed. In 1991, the annual total cost of maternity care at Karantaba was US$64 800 compared with US$25 300 at Ngayen Sanjal. The largest proportion of this difference was attributed to training. Whilst average cost/attendance was higher at Karantaba, the marginal cost of expanding the service to other villages was lower than the marginal cost at Ngayen Sanjal. Incremental cost-effectiveness of the mobile service at Karantaba was calculated according to best and worst case scenarios which showed that the extra cost/extra death averted per year ranged between US$459 and US$2134. Using discounted life years gained reduced the figures to US$42.9 and US$206.3. Various suggestions are offered for reducing the cost of the new service, and a number of methodological points are raised for discussion.
Health Policy (1996) 35 (2) 123-143 [doi:10.1016/0168-8510(95)00774-1]