When developing countries try to boost their health care systems, people often advocate letting the free market take care of it. After all, isn't the private sector meant to be a model of efficiency compared to the public sector?

Unfortunately, it turns out that's not always the case, at least not in the developing world. A huge meta-analysis of hospitals in low- and middle-income countries has shown that private healthcare isn't all its cracked up to be — but then neither is public, in some cases.


Top image: Peradeniya Hospital in Sri Lanka, by Snipergirl/Flickr.

The study looked at both non-profit and for-profit health care providers, and focused on six areas that the WHO deems important for healthcare: accessibility and responsiveness; quality; outcomes; accountability, transparency, and regulation; fairness and equity; and efficiency. The researchers included 109 different studies in their research, blanketing the globe. And while a lot of factors varied in different nations and regions, there were definitely some noticeable trends.

Despite the claims of its boosters, private healthcare was no more efficient than public — in fact, private facilities were less efficient, and they were more likely to violate accepted medical standards. On the flip side, public facilities were worse when it came to timeliness, friendliness, and access to supplies. Both types of providers had issues with accountability, and transparency, and putting up barriers to access.


Bottom line: Healthcare in developing nations is a large and complex topic — and getting these countries to the place where they can successfully look after their population is going to take more than just leaving them to the free market.