Reducing statistical uncertainty in costing studies

In many low- and middle-income countries, the costs of delivering public health programs such as for HIV/AIDS, nutrition, and immunization are not routinely tracked. A number of recent studies have sought to estimate program costs on the basis of detailed information collected on a subsample of facilities. While unbiased estimates can be obtained via accurate measurement and appropriate analyses, they are subject to statistical uncertainty. Quantification of this uncertainty, for example, via standard errors and/or 95% confidence intervals, provides important contextual information for decision-makers and for the design of future costing studies.

While other forms of uncertainty, such as that due to model misspecification, are considered and can be investigated through sensitivity analyses, statistical uncertainty is often not reported in studies estimating the total program costs. This may be due to a lack of awareness/understanding of (1) the technical details regarding uncertainty estimation and (2) the availability of software with which to calculate uncertainty for estimators resulting from complex surveys. We provide an overview of statistical uncertainty in the context of complex costing surveys, emphasizing the various potential specific sources that contribute to overall uncertainty.