Why do some physicians in Portuguese-speaking African countries work exclusively for the private sector? Findings from a mixed-methods study

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Background: Despite the growing interest in the private health sector in low- and middle-income countries, little is known about physicians working outside the public sector. The present work adopts a mixed-methods approach to explore characteristics, working patterns, choices, and motivations of the physicians working exclusively for the private sector in the capital cities of Cape Verde, Guinea Bissau, and Mozambique. The paper's objective is to contribute to the understanding of such physicians, ultimately informing the policies regulating the medical profession in low- and middle-income countries. Methods: The qualitative part of the study involved 48 interviews with physicians and health policy-makers and aimed at understanding the practice in the three locations. The quantitative study included a survey of 329 physicians, and multivariate analysis was conducted to analyse characteristics, time allocation, earnings, and motivations of those physicians working only for the private sector, in comparison to their public sector-only and dual practice peers. Results: Our findings showed that only a limited proportion of physicians in the three locations work exclusively for the private sector (11.2%), with members of this group being older than those practicing only in the public or in both sectors. They were found to work fewer hours per week (49 hours) than their public (56 hours) and dual practice peers (62 hours) (P <0.001 and P = 0.011, respectively). Their median earnings were USD 4,405 per month, with substantial variations across the three locations. Statistically significant differences were found with the earnings of public-only physicians (P <0.001), but not with those of the dual practice group (P = 0.340). The qualitative data from the interviews showed private-only physicians' preference for an independent and more flexible work modality, and this was quoted as a determining factor for their choice of sector. This group appears to include those working in the more informal sector, and those who decided to leave the civil service following a disagreement with the public employer. Conclusions: The study shows the importance of understanding the relation between health professionals' characteristics, motivations, and their engagement with the private sector to develop effective policies to regulate the profession. This may ultimately contribute to achieving universal access to medical services in low- and middle-income countries.

Original languageEnglish
Article number51
JournalHuman resources for health
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 11 Sep 2014


  • Health systems in Portuguese-speaking African countries
  • Human resources for health in low- and middle-income countries
  • Private health sector in Africa
  • Private sector physicians


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