Does free pregnancy testing reduce service denial in family planning clinics? A cluster-randomized experiment in Zambia and Ghana

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Background: In many countries, pregnancy tests are not freely available in family planning clinics. As a result, providers sometimes deny services to non-menstruating clients due to uncertainty about pregnancy. Few clients are actually pregnant, yet denied clients run the risk of becoming pregnant, and those sent to pharmacies pay inflated prices for inexpensive tests. To assess the programmatic effect of free pregnancy testing, we conducted cluster-randomized trials in Ghana and Zambia, assessing clients' uptake of contraception in family planning clinics. Methods: In each country, 5 clinics were randomized to intervention status and 5 to control. Service data from 2,028 new, non-menstruating clients in Zambia and 1,556 in Ghana were collected. Intervention clinics received supplies of pregnancy tests, and staff were instructed to use tests as needed to help exclude pregnancy. Control clinics received no intervention. The primary outcome was the proportion of non-menstruating clients denied an effective contraceptive method. Cost-effectiveness was also evaluated. Results: In Zambia, clients in intervention and control clinics faced a similar risk of service denial at baseline, 15% and 17%, respectively. At follow-up, denial remained unchanged at 17% in control clinics, but decreased significantly to 4% in intervention sites. Clients in Zambia were 4.4 (95% confidence interval [CI]=1.3-14.4) times more likely to be denied a method in control sites versus intervention sites (P<.01). Results from Ghana were inconclusive. Cost of a "denial averted" in Zambia was estimated to be US$0.59. Interpretation: Zambia results suggest that availability of free pregnancy testing significantly reduced contraceptive service denial, although results from Ghana preclude an unqualified recommendation. Authors conclude that free pregnancy testing in family planning clinics may make strong public health sense in those developing countries where denial to non-menstruating clients remains a problem. Although pregnancy can usually be excluded with a client history, pregnancy tests are often necessary.




Stanback, J., Vance, G., Asare, G., Kasonde, P., Kafulubiti, B., Chen, M., & Janowitz, B. (2013). Does free pregnancy testing reduce service denial in family planning clinics? A cluster-randomized experiment in Zambia and Ghana. Global Health Science and Practice, 1(3), 382–388.

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