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Blog

The scale and scope of private contributions to health systems

Future Health Systems

BY HEALTHER KINLAW, GUEST BLOGGER FROM THE UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, SAN FRANCISCO, GLOBAL HEALTH GROUP


The private sector provides more than half of the health services in Africa and Asia, measured both by source of financing for health services, and place of health service delivery.  While new data and better mapping of providers are improving the understanding of the scale of private healthcare services in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), issues of dual public-private employment, undercounting of unregistered practitioners, and public sector distrust remain barriers to a full accounting of the size or the activities of the sector. To encourage filling this knowledge gap, in May 2010, the 63rd World Health Assembly passed a resolution called, “Strengthening the capacity of governments to constructively engage the private sector in providing essential health-care services,” which acknowledged that private providers are a major source of care in most countries, that private provision of services can lead to innovation as well as great challenges,  and that governments in LMICs can more effectively engage with and regulate private providers.

On November 17, 2010 researchers held a session entitled “The scale and scope of private contributions to health systems” as part of the First Global Symposium on Health Systems Research (HSR) - Science to Accelerate Universal Health Coverage hosted by the World Health Organization (WHO) and partners in Montreux, Switzerland to provide updates of current research on the private sector, highlight innovative financing mechanisms, and address future topics for research. The session was conducted as a “fishbowl conversation” to encourage audience participation; the design includes speaker chairs arranged in an inner circle that represents the fishbowl with one chair left empty for any member of the audience to occupy, at any time, at which point an existing member of the fishbowl must voluntarily leave to free a chair.  Speakers represented a growing group of researchers that have met regularly for the last five years to share findings and advances in research methods for studying the private sector from the perspective of public health, epidemiology, health economics, public policy, and management.  They included:

  • Sara Bennett,  Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health (chair)
  • Ruth Berg, Abt Associates
  • Gerry Bloom, Institute of Development Studies
  • Tania Boler, Marie Stopes International
  • Kara Hanson, London School of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene
  • Birger Forsberg, Karolinska Instituet
  • Gina Lagomarsino, Results for Development Institute
  • Dominic Montagu, Global Health Group, University of California, San Francisco
  • Stefan Nachuk, Rockefeller Foundation
  • Gustavo Humberto Nigenda Lopez, National Institute of Public Health, Mexico

Speakers were asked to share their individual and institutional experience on innovative financing mechanisms which included: the Affordable Medicines Facility – malaria (AMFm), several national health insurance experiences, and public-private partnerships for regulation and otherwise.  Speakers also addressed communities of practice and other tool-sharing platforms that aim to make advances towards adoption of standardized methods for assessing private practitioners, their patients, and private funding flows using both secondary data sources and primary data collection, including: Social Franchising 4 Health (SF4Health.org), the Center for Health Market Innovation (healthmarketinnovations.org), Strengthening Health Outcomes through the Private Sector (shopsproject.org), The Alliance for Health Policy and Systems Research, Future Health Systems, Eldis on health systems, id21, and more by the World Bank and others.

Speakers and audience members suggested the following areas for future research: more anthropological studies around private provider behavior, motivations, and incentives; regulating counterfeit drugs within the private sector; consideration of the human resource aspects of the private sector, including recruitment and training, in their work; payment mechanisms and incentiving patients as well as providers; the increase of “payer” attention to the private sector, including governments; the role of purchasing (financial accounting, standards, etc.); the efficacy of various regulatory partnerships; quality of clinical service delivery; quality of chemical sellers (given that one longitudinal study by KEMRI found no significant difference between quality of chemical shops routinely inspected and those not).

Speakers reported on several upcoming literature reviews underway around the private sector: the Global Health Group at UCSF is conducting a Cochrane Review on health outcomes in publicly-vs-privately provided settings in LMICs and a review with Results for Development and the CHMI on informal providers.  At least one systematic review on voucher programs and health is also in progress.

Throughout the session, speakers also emphasized the economic booms occurring in Asia, and the private health sector growth that has quickly followed and stressed that in many significant amounts of delivery and care are happening outside of the regulatory system, including a prominent informal sector in many countries.  Finally, speakers called for greater transparency around public-private partnerships to ensure efficacy and lesson sharing.