Absenteeism among family planning providers: a mixed-methods study in Western Kenya

Katherine Tumlinson, Laura E Britton, Caitlin R Williams, Debborah Muthoki Wambua, Dickens Otieno Onyango

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Public-sector healthcare providers are on the frontline of family planning service delivery in low- and middle-income countries like Kenya, yet research suggests public-sector providers are frequently absent. The current prevalence of absenteeism in Western Kenya, as well as the impact on family planning clients, is unknown. The objective of this paper is to quantify the prevalence of public-sector healthcare provider absenteeism in this region of Kenya, to describe the potential impact on family planning uptake and to source locally grounded solutions to provider absenteeism. We used multiple data collection methods including unannounced visits to a random sample of 60 public-sector healthcare facilities in Western Kenya, focus group discussions with current and former family planning users, key informant interviews (KIIs) with senior staff from healthcare facilities and both governmental and non-governmental organizations and journey mapping activities with current family planning providers and clients. We found healthcare providers were absent in nearly 60% of unannounced visits and, among those present, 19% were not working at the time of the visit. In 20% of unannounced visits, the facility had no providers present. Provider absenteeism took many forms including providers arriving late to work, taking an extended lunch break, not returning from lunch or being absent for the entire day. While 56% of provider absences resulted from sanctioned activities such as planned vacation, sick leave or off-site work responsibilities, nearly half of the absences were unsanctioned, meaning providers were reportedly running personal errands, intending to arrive later or no one at the facility could explain the absence. Key informants and focus group participants reported high provider absence is a substantial barrier to contraceptive use, but solutions for resolving this problem remain elusive. Identification and rigorous evaluation of interventions designed to redress provider absenteeism are needed.

Original languageEnglish
JournalHealth Policy and Planning
Issue number5
Pages (from-to)575-586
Number of pages12
Publication statusPublished - 2022


  • Absenteeism
  • Family Planning Services
  • Health Facilities
  • Humans
  • Kenya/epidemiology
  • Public Sector


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