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Performance-based financing (PBF) has acquired increased prominence as a means of reforming health system purchasing structures in low-income and middle-income countries. A number of impact evaluations have noted that PBF often produces mixed and heterogeneous effects. Still, little systematic effort has been channeled towards understanding what causes such heterogeneity, including looking more closely at implementation processes.

This qualitative study aimed at closing this gap in knowledge by attempting to unpack the mixed and heterogeneous effects detected by the PBF impact evaluation in Cameroon to inform further implementation as the country scales up the PBF approach. We collected data at all levels of the health system (national, district, facility) and at the community level, using a mixture of in-depth interviews and focus group discussions. We combined deductive and inductive analytical techniques and applied analyst triangulation.

Our findings indicate that heterogeneity in effects across facilities could be explained by pre-existing infrastructural weaknesses coupled with rigid administrative processes and implementation challenges, while heterogeneity across indicators could be explained by providers’ practices, privileging services where demand-side barriers were less substantive.

In light of the country’s commitment to scaling up PBF, it follows that substantial efforts (particularly entrusting facilities with more financial autonomy) should be made to overcome infrastructural and demand-side barriers and to smooth implementation processes, thus, enabling healthcare providers to use PBF resources and management models to a fuller potential.

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