Example pictorial diary tool used in Tanzania.
In most low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), household out-of-pocket (OOP) health spending constitutes a major source of healthcare financing. Household surveys are commonly used to monitor OOP health spending, but are prone to recall bias and unable to capture seasonal variation, and may underestimate expenditure–particularly among households with long-term chronic health conditions. Household expenditure diaries have been developed as an alternative to overcome the limitations of surveys, and pictorial diaries have been proposed where literacy levels may render traditional diary approaches inappropriate. This study compares estimates for general household and chronic healthcare expenditure in South Africa, Tanzania and Zimbabwe derived using survey and pictorial diary approaches. We selected a random sub-sample of 900 households across urban and rural communities participating in the Prospective Urban and Rural Epidemiology study. For a range of general and health-specific categories, OOP expenditure estimates use cross-sectional survey data collected via standardised questionnaire, and data from these same households collected via two-week pictorial diaries repeated four times over 2016–2019. In all countries, average monthly per capita expenditure on food, non-food/non-health items, health, and consequently, total household expenditure reported by pictorial diaries was consistently higher than that reported by surveys (each p<0.001). Differences were greatest for health expenditure. The share of total household expenditure allocated to health also differed by method, accounting for 2% in each country when using survey data, and from 8–20% when using diary data. Our findings suggest that the choice of data collection method may have significant implications for estimating OOP health spending and the burden it places on households. Despite several practical challenges to their implementation, pictorial diaries offer a method to assess potential bias in surveys or triangulate data from multiple sources. We offer some practical guidance when considering the use of pictorial diaries for estimating household expenditure.