Coping with healthcare costs for chronic illness in low-income and middle-income countries: A systematic literature review

Adrianna Murphy*, Catherine McGowan, Martin McKee, Marc Suhrcke, Kara Hanson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Background Experiencing illness in low-income and middle-income countries (LMICs) can incur very high out-of-pocket (OOP) payments for healthcare and, while the existing literature typically focuses on levels of expenditure, it rarely examines what happens when households do not have the necessary money. Some will adopt one or more â € coping strategies', such as borrowing money, perhaps at exorbitant interest rates, or selling assets, some necessary for their future income, with detrimental long-term effects. This is particularly relevant for chronic illnesses that require consistent, long-term OOP payments. We systematically review the literature on strategies for financing OOP costs of chronic illnesses in LMICs, their correlates and their impacts on households. Methods We searched MEDLINE, EconLit, EMBASE, Global Health and Scopus on 22 October 2018 for literature published on or after 1 January 2000. We included qualitative or quantitative studies describing at least one coping strategy for chronic illness OOP payments in a LMIC context. Our narrative review follows Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses reporting guidelines. Results Forty-seven papers were included. Studies identified coping strategies for chronic illness costs that are not traditionally addressed in financial risk protection research (eg, taking children out of school, sending them to work, reducing expenditure on food or education, quitting work to give care). Twenty studies reported socioeconomic or other correlates of coping strategies, with poorer households and those with more advanced disease more vulnerable to detrimental strategies. Only six studies (three cross-sectional and three qualitative) included evidence of impacts of coping strategies on households, including increased labour to repay debts and discontinuing treatment. Conclusions Monitoring of financial risk protection provides an incomplete picture if it fails to capture the effect of coping strategies. This will require qualitative and longitudinal research to understand the long-term effects, especially those associated with chronic illness in LMICs.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere001475
Number of pages8
JournalBMJ Global health
Issue number4
Early online date21 Aug 2019
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 21 Aug 2019

Bibliographical note

© Author(s) (or their employer(s)) 2019.


  • health economics
  • health insurance
  • health systems
  • public health
  • systematic review

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