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Household strategies to cope with the economic costs of illness

By R. Sauerborn, A. Adams and M. Hien

Abstract

The authors examine the strategies rural households in Burkina Faso used to cope with the costs of illness in order to avert negative effects for household production and assets. They use information from 51 qualitative interviews, a household time allocation study and a household survey. Both surveys use the same sample of n = 566 households. The authors analyze these strategies along four dimensions: the type of behavior, the sequence in which strategies employed, the level at which strategies are negotiated, i.e. the household level, the non-household extended kin level or the community level, and finally the success of strategies in protecting household production and assets. A taxonomy of 11 distinct types of coping behavior is developed which have the effect of either avoiding costs by 'ignoring' disease, or of minimizing the impact of costs on the household once illness is perceived. Intra-household labor substitution was the main strategy to compensate for any labor lost to illness. However, labor substitution did not eliminate production losses in the majority of households struck with severe illness of a productive member. Only wealthy household were able to fully compensate labor losses by hiring labor or by investing in equipment to enhance productivity. Sales of livestock was the main strategy to cope with the financial costs of health care. None of the households studied fell into calamity. However, the households' ability to avert the loss of production and/or assets was very varied and depended on household size, composition and assets, on the type and duration of illness and on clustering of crises (e.g. several repetitive or simultaneous illnesses or concurrent seasonal stress). Coping with the costs of illness largely occurred at the level of the household. Inter-household transfers of resources played only a small role. The authors develop the concept of risk households and suggest several policies with the potential to strengthen the ability of households to cope with the economic costs of illness.illness costs household coping production loss utilization of health care

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