The Afghanistan experience of nearly 15 years of contracting for health services has demonstrated both how results-based financing (RBF) can serve to increase utilisation of health services and the equity in use, as well as the limitations and failings of RBF approaches to work consistently.
Future Health Systems (FHS) findings, generated through robust experimental and quasi-experimental studies in a rapidly changing context, suggests that attention to scheme design (especially to address demand side concerns, supply side capabilities, and the size and mechanisms of payments) and implementation (timeliness and communication about payments) are critical.
Peters D (2018) Health policy and systems research: the future of the field, Health Research Policy and Systems, 16:84, DOI: 10.1186/s12961-018-0359-0
Health policy and systems research (HPSR) has changed considerably over the last 20 years, but its main purpose remains to inform and influence health policies and systems. Whereas goals that underpin health systems have endured – such as a focus on health equity – contexts and priorities change, research methods progress, and health organisations continue to learn and adapt, in part by using HPSR. For HPSR to remain relevant, its practitioners need to re-think how health systems are conceptualised, to keep up with rapid changes in how we diagnose and manage disease and use information, and consider factors affecting people’s health that go well beyond healthcare systems. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) represent a shifting paradigm in human development by seeking convergence across sectors. They also offer an opportunity for HPSR to play a larger role, given its pioneering work on applying systems thinking to health, its focus on health equity, and the strength of its multi-disciplinary approaches that make it a good fit for the SDG era.
Waldman L, Theobald S and Morgan R (2018) Key Considerations for Accountability and Gender in Health Systems in Low- and Middle-Income Countries, IDS Bulletin, 49(2), DOI: 10.19088/1968-2018.137
This article poses questions, challenges, and dilemmas for health system researchers striving to better understand how gender shapes accountability mechanisms, by critically examining the relationship between accountability and gender in health systems. It raises three key considerations, namely that: (1) power and inequities are centre stage: power relations are critical to both gender and accountability, and accountability mechanisms can transform health systems to be more gender-equitable; (2) intersectionality analyses are necessary: gender is only one dimension of marginalisation and intersects with other social stratifiers to create different experiences of vulnerability; we need to take account of how these stratifiers collectively shape accountability; and (3) empowerment processes that address gender inequities are a prerequisite for bringing about accountability. We suggest that holistic approaches to understanding health systems inequities and accountability mechanisms are needed to transform gendered power inequities, impact on the gendered dimensions of ill health, and enhance health system functioning.
Cardona C and Bishai D (2018) The slowing pace of life expectancy gains since 1950, BMC Public Health, 18(1), 151, DOI: 10.1186/s12889-018-5058-9
New technological breakthroughs in biomedicine should have made it easier for countries to improve life expectancy at birth (LEB). This paper measures the pace of improvement in the decadal gains of LEB, for the last 60-years adjusting for each country’s starting point of LEB.
Morgan R, Dhatt R, Muraya K, Buse K, and George AS (2017) Recognition Matters: Only One in Ten Awards given to Women, The Lancet, 389(10088):2469, DOI: 10.1016/S0140-6736(17)31592-1
Receiving an award is an accolade. Awards validate and bring visibility, help attract funding, hasten career advancement, and can consolidate career accomplishments. Yet, in the fields of public health and medicine, few women receive them. Between seven public health and medicine awards from diverse countries, the chances of a woman receiving a prize was nine out of 100 since their inception.
Pratt B and Hyder AA (2017) Fair Resource Allocation to Health Research: Priority Topics for Bioethics Scholarship, Bioethics,31(6):454-466, DOI: 10.1111/bioe.12350
This article draws attention to the limited amount of scholarship on what constitutes fairness and equity in resource allocation to health research by individual funders. It identifies three key decisions of ethical significance about resource allocation that research funders make regularly and calls for prioritizing scholarship on those topics – namely, how health resources should be fairly apportioned amongst public health and health care delivery versus health research, how health research resources should be fairly allocated between health problems experienced domestically versus other health problems typically experienced by disadvantaged populations outside the funder's country, and how domestic and non-domestic health research funding should be further apportioned to different areas, e.g. types of research and recipients.
In public health research, the focus has traditionally been on descriptive and analytic epidemiological research (“what”, “why”, “where,” and “who”). Less attention has been given, particularly in low-income countries, to “how” interventions do or do not work in the “real world”, given the involvement of different actors, the context in which implementation occurs, and the factors that influence implementation. Future Health Systems (FHS) has been at the forefront in the exploration, application and growth of implementation research (IR).
Future Health Systems research into empowering communities to demand and shape health services has informed the development of a WHO strategy on service delivery. The strategy reflects a paradigm shift towards an increased emphasis on preventive public health, as well as curative strategies, to address current and future health challenges.
Glandon D, Paina L, Alonge O, Peters DH and Bennett S (2017) 10 Best resources for community engagement in implementation research, Health Policy and Planning, Volume 32, Issue 10, 1457–1465, doi: 10.1093/heapol/czx123
Implementation research (IR) focuses on understanding how and why interventions produce their effects in a given context. This often requires engaging a broad array of stakeholders at multiple levels of the health system. Whereas a variety of tools and approaches exist to facilitate stakeholder engagement at the national or institutional level, there is a substantial gap in the IR literature about how best to do this at the local or community level. Similarly, although there is extensive guidance on community engagement within the context of clinical trials—for HIV/AIDS in particular—the same cannot be said for IR. We identified a total of 59 resources by using a combination of online searches of the peer-reviewed and grey literature, as well as crowd-sourcing through the Health Systems Global platform. The authors then completed two rounds of rating the resources to identify the ‘10 best’.
Members of the Future Health Systems (FHS) consortium have spearheaded important and previously unexplored work on the ethics of health systems research (HSR). FHS has contributed empirical knowledge on understanding how researchers are dealing with the ethics of HSR on the ground, as well as conceptual thinking, including exploring issues of justice, health capabilities, and responsiveness. The work has engaged new actors, built a movement of parties interested in the issues, and influenced the agendas of global institutions such as the World Health Organization.
Bloom G, Berdou E, Standing H, Guo Z and Labrique A (2017) ICTs and the challenge of health system transition in low and middle-income countries, Globalization and Health, 13:56, doi: 10.1186/s12992-017-0276-y
The aim of this paper is to contribute to debates about how governments and other stakeholders can influence the application of ICTs to increase access to safe, effective and affordable treatment of common illnesses, especially by the poor. First, it argues that the health sector is best conceptualized as a ‘knowledge economy’. This supports a broadened view of health service provision that includes formal and informal arrangements for the provision of medical advice and drugs. This is particularly important in countries with a pluralistic health system, with relatively underdeveloped institutional arrangements. It then argues that reframing the health sector as a knowledge economy allows us to circumvent the blind spots associated with donor-driven ICT-interventions and consider more broadly the forces that are driving e-health innovations. It draws on small case studies in Bangladesh and China to illustrate new types of organization and new kinds of relationship between organizations that are emerging. It argues that several factors have impeded the rapid diffusion of ICT innovations at scale including: the limited capacity of innovations to meet health service needs, the time it takes to build new kinds of partnership between public and private actors and participants in the health and communications sectors and the lack of a supportive regulatory environment. It emphasises the need to understand the political economy of the digital health knowledge economy and the new regulatory challenges likely to emerge. It concludes that governments will need to play a more active role to facilitate the diffusion of beneficial ICT innovations at scale and ensure that the overall pattern of health system development meets the needs of the population, including the poor.
Pratt B, Allen KA and Hyder AA (2016) Promoting equity through health systems research in low- and middle-income countries: Practices of researchers, AJOB Empirical Bioethics, Volume 7, Issue 3, DOI:10.1080/23294515.2015.1122669
Health systems research is increasingly identified as an indispensable means to achieve the goal of health equity between and within countries. While conceptual work has explored what form of health systems research in low and middle-income countries (LMICs) is needed to promote health equity, there have been few attempts to investigate whether it is being performed in practice. This paper describes the results of a survey undertaken with health systems researchers worldwide to assess how equity-oriented current practice is in LMICs.
Pratt B and Hyder AA (2017) Governance of global health research consortia: Sharing sovereignty and resources within Future Health Systems, Social Science and Medicine, Volume 174, Pages 113–121, DOI: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2016.11.039
Global health research partnerships are increasingly taking the form of consortia that conduct programs of research in low and middle-income countries (LMICs). An ethical framework has been developed that describes how the governance of consortia comprised of institutions from high-income countries and LMICs should be structured to promote health equity. It encompasses initial guidance for sharing sovereignty in consortia decision-making and sharing consortia resources. This paper describes a first effort to examine whether and how consortia can uphold that guidance. Case study research was undertaken with the Future Health Systems consortium, performs research to improve health service delivery for the poor in Bangladesh, China, India, and Uganda.
Pratt B and Hyder AA (2016) Designing research funding schemes to promote global health equity: An exploration of current practice in health systems research, Developing World Bioethics, DOI: 10.1111/dewb.12136
International research is an essential means of reducing health disparities between and within countries and should do so as a matter of global justice. Research funders from high-income countries have an obligation of justice to support health research in low and middle-income countries (LMICs) that furthers such objectives. This paper investigates how their current funding schemes are designed to incentivise health systems research in LMICs that promotes health equity.
Pratt B and Hyder AA (2016) How can health systems research reach the worst-off? A conceptual exploration, BMC Health Services Research 16:1868, DOI: 10.1186/s12913-016-1868-6
Health systems research is increasingly being conducted in low and middle-income countries (LMICs). Such research should aim to reduce health disparities between and within countries as a matter of global justice. For such research to do so, ethical guidance that is consistent with egalitarian theories of social justice proposes it ought to (amongst other things) focus on worst-off countries and research populations. Yet who constitutes the worst-off is not well-defined.
Ozawa S, Paina L and Qiu M (2016) Exploring pathways for building trust in vaccination and strengthening health system resilience, BMC Health Services Research, 16:1867, DOI: 10.1186/s12913-016-1867-7
Trust is critical to generate and maintain demand for vaccines in low and middle income countries. However, there is little documentation on how health system insufficiencies affect trust in vaccination and the process of re-building trust once it has been compromised. We reflect on how disruptions to immunizations systems can affect trust in vaccination and can compromise vaccine utilization. We then explore key pathways for overcoming system vulnerabilities in order to restore trust, to strengthen the resilience of health systems and communities, and to promote vaccine utilization.
George AS, Scott K, Sarriot E, Kanjilal B and Peters DH (2016) Unlocking community capabilities across health systems in low- and middle-income countries: lessons learned from research and reflective practice, BMC Health Services Research, 16:1859, DOI: 10.1186/s12913-016-1859-7
The right and responsibility of communities to participate in health service delivery was enshrined in the 1978 Alma Ata declaration and continues to feature centrally in health systems debates today. Communities are a vital part of people-centred health systems and their engagement is critical to realizing the diverse health targets prioritised by the Sustainable Development Goals and the commitments made to Universal Health Coverage. Community members’ intimate knowledge of local needs and adaptive capacities are essential in constructively harnessing global transformations related to epidemiological and demographic transitions, urbanization, migration, technological innovation and climate change. Effective community partnerships and governance processes that underpin community capability also strengthen local resilience, enabling communities to better manage shocks, sustain gains, and advocate for their needs through linkages to authorities and services. This is particularly important given how power relations mark broader contexts of resource scarcity and concentration, struggles related to social liberties and other types of ongoing conflicts.
Nyenswah T, Engineer CY & Peters DH (2016) Leadership in Times of Crisis: The Example of Ebola Virus Disease in Liberia, Health Systems & Reform, 2:3, 194-207, DOI: 10.1080/23288604.2016.1222793
The Ebola epidemic of 2014–2015 was one of the most significant public health threats of the 21st century, a crisis that challenged leadership in West Africa and around the world. Using the experience of Liberia's epidemic control efforts, we highlight the critical role that leadership played during four phases of the epidemic response: (1) crisis recognition and early mobilization; (2) the emergency phase; (3) the declining epidemic; and (4) the long tail. We examine how the decisions and actions taken in each phase of the epidemic address key crisis leadership tasks, including sense-making, decision making, meaning-making, crisis termination, and learning, and assess how leadership approaches evolved during the different epidemic phases to accomplish these tasks.
In the United States and parts of Africa and Asia, community scorecards (CSCs) have improved accountability and responsiveness of services. Work supported by Future Health Systems (FHS) sought to evaluate CSC feasibility in a fragile context (Afghanistan) through joint engagement of service providers and community members in the design of patient-centred services, to assess impact on service delivery and perceived quality of care.
Systems thinking represents a unique theoretical and practical contribution. It facilitates ways to cross disciplines, and brings previously unused tools and approaches to tackle global health implementation differently. Future Health Systems (FHS) has played a major role in applying and advocating for the approach as a means to holistically understand health systems in low- and middle-income countries, as well as adaptation and scale-up of the project’s interventions.