Informal payments for health services are common in many transitional and developing countries. The aim of this paper is to investigate the nature of informal payments in the health sector of Tanzania and to identify mechanisms through which informal payments may affect the quality of health care. Our focus is on the effect of informal payments on health worker behaviours, in particular the interpersonal dynamics among health workers at their workplaces.

We organised eight focus groups with 58 health workers representing different cadres and levels of care in one rural and one urban district in Tanzania.

We found that health workers at all levels receive informal payments in a number of different contexts. Health workers sometimes share the payments received, but only partially, and more rarely within the cadre than across cadres. Our findings indicate that health workers are involved in ‘rent-seeking’ activities, such as creating artificial shortages and deliberately lowering the quality of service, in order to extract extra payments from patients or to bargain for a higher share of the payments received by their colleagues. The discussions revealed that many health workers think that the distribution of informal payments is grossly unfair.

The findings suggest that informal payments can impact negatively on the quality of health care through rent-seeking behaviours and through frustrations created by the unfair allocation of payments. Interestingly, the presence of corruption may also induce non-corrupt workers to reduce the quality of care. Positive impacts can occur because informal payments may induce health workers to increase their efforts, and maybe more so if there is competition among health workers about receiving the payments. Moreover, informal payments add to health workers’ incomes and might thus contribute to retention of health workers within the health sector.

Ottar Mæstad

Research Professor / Special Adviser, Director Development Learning Lab

Global Health and Development

Jan 2006 - Dec 2009