In sub-Saharan Africa, women must overcome numerous barriers when they need modern healthcare. Respect of gender norms within the household and the community may still influence women's ability to obtain care. A lack of gender-sensitive instruments for measuring women's ability to overcome barriers compromises attempts to adequately quantify the burden and risk of exclusion they face when seeking modern healthcare. The aim of this study was to create and validate a synthetic measure of women's access to healthcare from a publicly available and possibly internationally comparable population-based survey.
Seven questionnaire items from the Burkina Faso 2003 DHS were combined to create the index. Cronbach's alpha coefficient was used to test the reliability of the index. Exploratory factor analyses (EFA) and confirmatory factor analyses (CFA) were applied to evaluate the factorial structure and construct validity of the index while taking into account the hierarchical structure of the data.
The index has a Cronbach's alpha of 0.75, suggesting adequate reliability. In EFA, three correlated factors fitted the data best. In CFA, the construct of perceived ability to overcome barriers to healthcare seeking emerged as a second-order latent variable with three domains: socioeconomic barriers, geographical barriers and psychosocial barriers. Model fit indices support the index's global validity for women of reproductive age in Burkina Faso. Evidence for construct validity comes from the finding that women's index scores increase with household living standard.
The DHS items can be combined into a reliable and valid, gender-sensitive index quantifying reproductive-age women's perceived ability to overcome barriers to healthcare seeking in Burkina Faso. The index complies conceptually with the sector-cross-cutting capability approach and enables measuring directly the perceived access to healthcare. Therefore it can help to improve the design and evaluation of interventions that aim to facilitate healthcare seeking in this country. Further analyses may examine how far the index applies to similar contexts.