Publications by authors named "Sophie Witter"

99 Publications

How do participatory methods shape policy? Applying a realist approach to the formulation of a new tuberculosis policy in Georgia.

BMJ Open 2021 06 29;11(6):e047948. Epub 2021 Jun 29.

Institute for Global Health and Development, Queen Margaret University Edinburgh, Musselburgh, UK.

Objectives: This paper presents the iterative process of participatory multistakeholder engagement that informed the development of a new national tuberculosis (TB) policy in Georgia, and the lessons learnt.

Methods: Guided by realist evaluation methods, a multistakeholder dialogue was organised to elicit stakeholders' assumptions on challenges and possible solutions for better TB control. Two participatory workshops were conducted with key actors, interspersed by reflection meetings within the research team and discussions with policymakers. Using concept mapping and causal mapping techniques, and drawing causal loop diagrams, we visualised how actors understood TB service provision challenges and the potential means by which a results-based financing (RBF) policy could address these.

Setting: The study was conducted in Tbilisi, Georgia.

Participants: A total of 64 key actors from the Ministry of Labour, Health and Social Affairs, staff of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria Georgia Project, the National Centre for Disease Control and Public Health, the National TB programme, TB service providers and members of the research team were involved in the workshops.

Results: Findings showed that beyond provider incentives, additional policy components were necessary. These included broadening the incentive package to include institutional and organisational incentives, retraining service providers, clear redistribution of roles to support an integrated care model, and refinement of monitoring tools. Health system elements, such as effective referral systems and health information systems were highlighted as necessary for service improvement.

Conclusions: Developing policies that address complex issues requires methods that facilitate linkages between multiple stakeholders and between theory and practice. Such participatory approaches can be informed by realist evaluation principles and visually facilitated by causal loop diagrams. This approach allowed us leverage stakeholders' knowledge and expertise on TB service delivery and RBF to codesign a new policy.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmjopen-2020-047948DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8245474PMC
June 2021

An analysis of policy and funding priorities of global actors regarding noncommunicable disease in low- and middle-income countries.

Global Health 2021 Jun 29;17(1):68. Epub 2021 Jun 29.

Institute for Global Health and Development, Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh, EH21 6UU, UK.

Background: Noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), including mental health, have become a major concern in low- and middle-income countries. Despite increased attention to them over the past decade, progress toward addressing NCDs has been slow. A lack of bold policy commitments has been suggested as one of the contributors to limited progress in NCD prevention and management. However, the policies of key global actors (bilateral, multilateral, and not-for-profit organisations) have been understudied.

Methods: This study aimed to map the key global actors investing in action regarding NCDs and review their policies to examine the articulation of priorities regarding NCDs. Narrative synthesis of 70 documents and 31 policy papers was completed, and related to data collated from the Global Health Data Visualisation Tool.

Results: In 2019 41% of development assistance for health committed to NCDs came from private philanthropies, while that for other global health priorities from this source was just 20%. Through a range of channels, bilateral donors were the other major source of NCD funding (contributing 41% of NCD funding). The UK and the US were the largest bilateral investors in NCDs, each contributing 8%. However, NCDs are still under-prioritised within bilateral portfolios - receiving just 0.48% of US funding and 1.66% of the UK. NGOs were the key channels of funding for NCDs, spending 48% of the funds from donors in 2019. The reviewed literature generally focused on NCD policies of WHO, with policies of multilateral and bilateral donors given limited attention. The analysis of policies indicated a limited prioritisation of NCDs in policy documents. NCDs are framed in the policies as a barrier to economic growth, poverty reduction, and health system sustainability. Bilateral donors prioritise prevention, while multilateral actors offer policy options for NCD prevention and care. Even where stated as a priority, however, funding allocations are not aligned.

Conclusion: The growing threat of NCDs and their drivers are increasingly recognised. However, global actors' policy priorities and funding allocations need to align better to address these NCD threats. Given the level of their investment and engagement, more research is needed into the role of private philanthropies and NGOs in this area.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1186/s12992-021-00713-4DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8240078PMC
June 2021

Paying for performance to improve the delivery of health interventions in low- and middle-income countries.

Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2021 05 5;5:CD007899. Epub 2021 May 5.

Institute for Global Health and Development, Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh, UK.

Background: There is growing interest in paying for performance (P4P) as a means to align the incentives of healthcare providers with public health goals. Rigorous evidence on the effectiveness of these strategies in improving health care and health in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) is lacking; this is an update of the 2012 review on this topic.

Objectives: To assess the effects of paying for performance on the provision of health care and health outcomes in low- and middle-income countries.

Search Methods: We searched CENTRAL, MEDLINE, Embase, and 10 other databases between April and June 2018. We also searched two trial registries, websites, online resources of international agencies, organizations and universities, and contacted experts in the field. Studies identified from rerunning searches in 2020 are under 'Studies awaiting classification.'

Selection Criteria: We included randomized or non-randomized trials, controlled before-after studies, or interrupted time series studies conducted in LMICs (as defined by the World Bank in 2018). P4P refers to the transfer of money or material goods conditional on taking a measurable action or achieving a predetermined performance target. To be included, a study had to report at least one of the following outcomes: patient health outcomes, changes in targeted measures of provider performance (such as the delivery of healthcare services), unintended effects, or changes in resource use.

Data Collection And Analysis: We extracted data as per original review protocol and narratively synthesised findings. We used standard methodological procedures expected by Cochrane. Given diversity and variability in intervention types, patient populations, analyses and outcome reporting, we deemed meta-analysis inappropriate. We noted the range of effects associated with P4P against each outcome of interest. Based on intervention descriptions provided in documents, we classified design schemes and explored variation in effect by scheme design.

Main Results: We included 59 studies: controlled before-after studies (19), non-randomized (16) or cluster randomized trials (14);  and interrupted time-series studies (9). One study included both an interrupted time series and a controlled before-after study. Studies focused on a wide range of P4P interventions, including target payments and payment for outputs as modified by quality (or quality and equity assessments). Only one study assessed results-based aid. Many schemes were funded by national governments (23 studies) with the World Bank funding most externally funded schemes (11 studies). Targeted services varied; however, most interventions focused on reproductive, maternal and child health indicators. Participants were predominantly located in public or in a mix of public, non-governmental and faith-based facilities (54 studies). P4P was assessed predominantly at health facility level, though districts and other levels were also involved. Most studies assessed the effects of P4P against a status quo control (49 studies); however, some studies assessed effects against comparator interventions (predominantly enhanced financing intended to match P4P funds (17 studies)). Four studies reported intervention effects against both comparator and status quo. Controlled before-after studies were at higher risk of bias than other study designs. However, some randomised trials were also downgraded due to risk of bias. The interrupted time-series studies provided insufficient information on other concurrent changes in the study context. P4P compared to a status quo control For health services that are specifically targeted, P4P may slightly improve health outcomes (low certainty evidence), but few studies assessed this. P4P may also improve service quality overall (low certainty evidence); and probably increases the availability of health workers, medicines and well-functioning infrastructure and equipment (moderate certainty evidence). P4P may have mixed effects on the delivery and use of services (low certainty evidence) and may have few or no distorting unintended effects on outcomes that were not targeted (low-certainty evidence), but few studies assessed these. For secondary outcomes, P4P may make little or no difference to provider absenteeism, motivation or satisfaction (low certainty evidence); but may improve patient satisfaction and acceptability (low certainty evidence); and may positively affect facility managerial autonomy (low certainty evidence). P4P probably makes little to no difference to management quality or facility governance (low certainty evidence). Impacts on equity were mixed (low certainty evidence). For health services that are untargeted, P4P probably improves some health outcomes (moderate certainty evidence); may improve the delivery, use and quality of some health services but may make little or no difference to others (low certainty evidence); and may have few or no distorting unintended effects (low certainty evidence). The effects of P4P on the availability of medicines and other resources are uncertain (very low certainty evidence). P4P compared to other strategies For health outcomes and services that are specifically targeted, P4P may make little or no difference to health outcomes (low certainty evidence), but few studies assessed this. P4P may improve service quality (low certainty evidence); and may have mixed effects on the delivery and use of health services and on the availability of equipment and medicines (low certainty evidence). For health outcomes and services that are untargeted, P4P may make little or no difference to health outcomes and to the delivery and use of health services (low certainty evidence). The effects of P4P on service quality, resource availability and unintended effects are uncertain (very low certainty evidence). Findings of subgroup analyses Results-based aid, and schemes using payment per output adjusted for service quality, appeared to yield the greatest positive effects on outcomes. However, only one study evaluated results-based aid, so the effects may be spurious. Overall, schemes adjusting both for quality of service and rewarding equitable delivery of services appeared to perform best in relation to service utilization outcomes.

Authors' Conclusions: The evidence base on the impacts of P4P schemes has grown considerably, with study quality gradually increasing. P4P schemes may have mixed effects on outcomes of interest, and there is high heterogeneity in the types of schemes implemented and evaluations conducted. P4P is not a uniform intervention, but rather a range of approaches. Its effects depend on the interaction of several variables, including the design of the intervention (e.g., who receives payments ), the amount of additional funding,  ancillary components (such as technical support) and contextual factors (including organizational context).
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/14651858.CD007899.pub3DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8099148PMC
May 2021

Collective reflections on the first cycle of a collaborative learning platform to strengthen rural primary healthcare in Mpumalanga, South Africa.

Health Res Policy Syst 2021 Apr 19;19(1):66. Epub 2021 Apr 19.

Department of Epidemiology and Global Health, Umeå University, Umeå, Sweden.

Background: Frontline managers and health service providers are constrained in many contexts from responding to community priorities due to organizational cultures focused on centrally defined outputs and targets. This paper presents an evaluation of the Verbal Autopsy with Participatory Action Research (VAPAR) programme-a collaborative learning platform embedded in the local health system in Mpumalanga, South Africa-for strengthening of rural primary healthcare (PHC) systems. The programme aims to address exclusion from access to health services by generating and acting on research evidence of practical, local relevance.

Methods: Drawing on existing links in the provincial and national health systems and applying rapid, participatory evaluation techniques, we evaluated the first action-learning cycle of the VAPAR programme (2017-19). We collected data in three phases: (1) 10 individual interviews with programme stakeholders, including from government departments and parastatals, nongovernmental organizations and local communities; (2) an evaluative/exploratory workshop with provincial and district Department of Health managers; and (3) feedback and discussion of findings during an interactive workshop with national child health experts.

Results: Individual programme stakeholders described early outcomes relating to effective research and stakeholder engagement, and organization and delivery of services, with potential further contributions to the establishment of an evidence base for local policy and planning, and improved health outcomes. These outcomes were verified with provincial managers. Provincial and national stakeholders identified the potential for VAPAR to support engagement between communities and health authorities for collective planning and implementation of services. Provincial stakeholders proposed that this could be achieved through a two-way integration, with VAPAR stakeholders participating in routine health planning and review activities and frontline health officials being involved in the VAPAR process. Findings were collated into a revised theory of change.

Conclusions: The VAPAR learning platform was regarded as a feasible, acceptable and relevant approach to facilitate cooperative learning and community participation in health systems. The evaluation provides support for a collaborative learning platform within routine health system processes and contributes to the limited evaluative evidence base on embedded health systems research.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1186/s12961-021-00716-yDOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8054125PMC
April 2021

Understanding non-communicable diseases: combining health surveillance with local knowledge to improve rural primary health care in South Africa.

Glob Health Action 2021 01;14(1):1852781

MRC/Wits Rural Public Health and Health Transitions Research Unit [Agincourt], School of Public Health, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand , Johannesburg, South Africa.

: NCDs are non-infectious, long-term conditions that account for 40 million deaths per annum. 87% of premature NCD mortality occurs in low- and middle-income countries. : The aims were:develop methods to provide integrated biosocial accounts of NCD mortality; and explore the practical utility of extended mortality data for the primary health care system. : We drew on data from research programmes in the study area. Data were analysed in three steps: [a]analysis of levels, causes and circumstances of NCD mortality [n = 4,166] from routine census updates including Verbal Autopsy and of qualitative data on lived experiences of NCDs in rural villages from participatory research; [b] identifying areas of convergence and divergence between the analyses; and [c]exploration of the practical relevance of the data drawing on engagements with health systems stakeholders. : NCDs constituted a significant proportion of mortality in this setting [36%]. VA data revealed multiple barriers to access in end-of-life care. Many deaths were attributed to problems with resources and health systems [21%;19% respectively]. The qualitative research provided rich complementary detail on the processes through which risk originates, accumulates and is expressed in access to end-of-life care, related to chronic poverty and perceptions of poor quality care in clinics. The exploration of practical relevance revealed chronic under-funding for NCD services, and an acute need for robust, timely data on the NCD burden. : VA data allowed a significant burden of NCD mortality to be quantified and revealed barriers to access at and around the time of death. Qualitative research contextualised these barriers, providing explanations of how and why they exist and persist. Health systems analysis revealed shortages of resources allocated to NCDs and a need for robust research to provide locally relevant evidence to organise and deliver care. Pragmatic interdisciplinary and mixed method analysis provides relevant renditions of complex problems to inform more effective responses.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/16549716.2020.1852781DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7782313PMC
January 2021

Employment based health financing does not support gender equity in universal health coverage.

BMJ 2020 10 27;371:m3384. Epub 2020 Oct 27.

United Nations University International Institute for Global Health, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

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http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.m3384DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7587231PMC
October 2020

Experiences of a new cadre of midwives in Bangladesh: findings from a mixed method study.

Hum Resour Health 2020 10 6;18(1):73. Epub 2020 Oct 6.

Institute for Global Health and Development, Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh, United Kingdom.

Background: Bangladesh did not have dedicated professional midwives in public sector health facilities until recently, when the country started a nation-wide programme to educate and deploy diploma midwives. The objective of the findings presented in this paper, which is part of a larger study, was to better understand the experience of the midwives of their education programme and first posting as a qualified midwife and to assess their midwifery knowledge and skills.

Methods: We applied a mixed method approach, which included interviewing 329 midwives and conducting 6 focus group discussions with 43 midwives and midwifery students. Sampling weights were used to generate representative statistics for the entire cohort of the midwives deployed in the public sector health facilities.

Results: Most of the midwives were satisfied with different dimensions of their education programme, with the exception of the level of exposure they had to the rural communities during their programme. Out of 329 midwives, 50% received tuition fee waivers, while 46% received funding for educational materials and 40% received free accommodation. The satisfaction with the various aspects of the current posting was high and nearly all midwives reported that a desire to work in the public sector in the long run. However, a significant proportion of the midwives expressed concerns with equipment, accommodation, transport and prospect of transfers. The scores on the knowledge test and self-reported skill levels were varied but reasonably high.

Conclusion: While the midwives are highly motivated, satisfied with many aspects of their current jobs and have adequate knowledge and skills, there are some bottlenecks and concerns that, if unaddressed, may derail the success of this programme. To capture the career progress of these midwives, additional research, including a follow-up study with the same cohort of midwives, would be beneficial to this programme.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1186/s12960-020-00505-8DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7541330PMC
October 2020

Adapting and implementing training, guidelines and treatment cards to improve primary care-based hypertension and diabetes management in a fragile context: results of a feasibility study in Sierra Leone.

BMC Public Health 2020 Jul 29;20(1):1185. Epub 2020 Jul 29.

NIHR Research Unit on Health in Situations of Fragility and College of Medicine and Allied Health Sciences, University of Sierra Leone, Freetown, Sierra Leone.

Background: Sierra Leone, a fragile country, is facing an increasingly significant burden of non-communicable diseases (NCDs). Facilitated by an international partnership, a project was developed to adapt and pilot desktop guidelines and other clinical support tools to strengthen primary care-based hypertension and diabetes diagnosis and management in Bombali district, Sierra Leone between 2018 and 2019. This study assesses the feasibility of the project through analysis of the processes of intervention adaptation and development, delivery of training and implementation of a care improvement package and preliminary outcomes of the intervention.

Methods: A mixed-method approach was used for the assessment, including 51 semi-structured interviews, review of routine treatment cards (retrieved for newly registered hypertensive and diabetic patients from June 2018 to March 2019 followed up for three months) and mentoring data, and observation of training. Thematic analysis was used for qualitative data and descriptive trend analysis and t-test was used for quantitative data, wherever appropriate.

Results: A Technical Working Group, established at district and national level, helped to adapt and develop the context-specific desktop guidelines for clinical management and lifestyle interventions and associated training curriculum and modules for community health officers (CHOs). Following a four-day training of CHOs, focusing on communication skills, diagnosis and management of hypertension and diabetes, and thanks to a CHO-based mentorship strategy, there was observed improvement of NCD knowledge and care processes regarding diagnosis, treatment, lifestyle education and follow up. The intervention significantly improved the average diastolic blood pressure of hypertensive patients (n = 50) three months into treatment (98 mmHg at baseline vs. 86 mmHg in Month 3, P = 0.001). However, health systems barriers typical of fragile settings, such as cost of transport and medication for patients and lack of supply of medications and treatment equipment in facilities, hindered the optimal delivery of care for hypertensive and diabetic patients.

Conclusion: Our study suggests the potential feasibility of this approach to strengthening primary care delivery of NCDs in fragile contexts. However, the approach needs to be built into routine supervision and pre-service training to be sustained. Key barriers in the health system and at community level also need to be addressed.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1186/s12889-020-09263-7DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7392674PMC
July 2020

Human resources for health interventions in high- and middle-income countries: findings of an evidence review.

Hum Resour Health 2020 06 8;18(1):43. Epub 2020 Jun 8.

World Bank, Washington D.C., United States of America.

Many high- and middle-income countries face challenges in developing and maintaining a health workforce which can address changing population health needs. They have experimented with interventions which overlap with but have differences to those documented in low- and middle-income countries, where many of the recent literature reviews were undertaken. The aim of this paper is to fill that gap. It examines published and grey evidence on interventions to train, recruit, retain, distribute, and manage an effective health workforce, focusing on physicians, nurses, and allied health professionals in high- and middle-income countries. A search of databases, websites, and relevant references was carried out in March 2019. One hundred thirty-one reports or papers were selected for extraction, using a template which followed a health labor market structure. Many studies were cross-cutting; however, the largest number of country studies was focused on Canada, Australia, and the United States of America. The studies were relatively balanced across occupational groups. The largest number focused on availability, followed by performance and then distribution. Study numbers peaked in 2013-2016. A range of study types was included, with a high number of descriptive studies. Some topics were more deeply documented than others-there is, for example, a large number of studies on human resources for health (HRH) planning, educational interventions, and policies to reduce in-migration, but much less on topics such as HRH financing and task shifting. It is also evident that some policy actions may address more than one area of challenge, but equally that some policy actions may have conflicting results for different challenges. Although some of the interventions have been more used and documented in relation to specific cadres, many of the lessons appear to apply across them, with tailoring required to reflect individuals' characteristics, such as age, location, and preferences. Useful lessons can be learned from these higher-income settings for low- and middle-income settings. Much of the literature is descriptive, rather than evaluative, reflecting the organic way in which many HRH reforms are introduced. A more rigorous approach to testing HRH interventions is recommended to improve the evidence in this area of health systems strengthening.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1186/s12960-020-00484-wDOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7281920PMC
June 2020

Performance-Based Financing, Basic Packages of Health Services and User-Fee Exemption Mechanisms: An Analysis of Health-Financing Policy Integration in Three Fragile and Conflict-Affected Settings.

Appl Health Econ Health Policy 2020 12;18(6):801-810

ReBUILD and Institute for Global Health and Development, Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh, UK.

Background: As performance-based financing (PBF) is increasingly implemented across sub-Saharan Africa, some authors have suggested that it could be a 'stepping stone' for health-system strengthening and broad health-financing reforms. However, so far, few studies have looked at whether and how PBF is aligned to and integrated with national health-financing strategies, particularly in fragile and conflict-affected settings.

Objective: This study attempts to address the existing research gap by exploring the role of PBF with reference to: (1) user fees/exemption policies and (2) basic packages of health services and benefit packages in the Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo and Nigeria.

Methods: The comparative case study is based on document review, key informant interviews and focus-group discussions with stakeholders at national and subnational levels.

Results: The findings highlight different experiences in terms of PBF's integration. Although (formal or informal) fee exemption or reduction practices exist in all settings, their implementation is not uniform and they are often introduced by external programmes, including PBF, in an uncoordinated and vertical fashion. Additionally, the degree to which PBF indicators lists are aligned to the national basic packages of health services varies across cases, and is influenced by factors such as funders' priorities and budgetary concerns.

Conclusions: Overall, we find that where national leadership is stronger, PBF is better integrated and more in line with the health-financing regulations and, during phases of acute crisis, can provide structure and organisation to the system. Where governmental stewardship is weaker, PBF may result in another parallel programme, potentially increasing fragmentation in health financing and inequalities between areas supported by different donors.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s40258-020-00567-8DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7717041PMC
December 2020

Rural-urban health-seeking behaviours for non-communicable diseases in Sierra Leone.

BMJ Glob Health 2020 2;5(2):e002024. Epub 2020 Mar 2.

Institute for Global Health and Development, Queen Margaret University Edinburgh, Musselburgh, UK.

Introduction: Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are the leading cause of mortality globally. In Africa, they are expected to increase by 25% by 2030. However, very little is known about community perceptions of risk factors and factors influencing health-seeking behaviour, especially in fragile settings. Understanding these is critical to effectively address this epidemic, especially in low-resource settings.

Methods: We use participatory group model building techniques to probe knowledge and perceptions of NCD conditions and their causes, health-seeking patterns for NCDs and factors affecting these health-seeking patterns. Our participants were 116 local leaders and community members in three sites in Western Area (urban) and Bombali District (rural), Sierra Leone. Data were analysed using a prior framework for NCD care seeking developed in Ghana.

Results: Our findings suggest adequate basic knowledge of causes and symptoms of the common NCDs, in rural and urban areas, although there is a tendency to highlight and react to severe symptoms. Urban and rural communities have access to a complex network of formal and informal, traditional and biomedical, spiritual and secular health providers. We highlight multiple narratives of causal factors which community members can hold, and how these and social networks influence their care seeking. Care seeking is influenced by a number of factors, including supply-side factors (proximity and cost), previous experiences of care, disease-specific factors, such as acute presentation, and personal and community beliefs about the appropriateness of different strategies.

Conclusion: This article adds to the limited literature on community understanding of NCDs and its associated health-seeking behaviour in fragile settings. It is important to further elucidate these factors, which power hybrid journeys including non-care seeking, failure to prevent and self-manage effectively, and considerable expenditure for households, in order to improve prevention and management of NCDs in fragile settings such as Sierra Leone.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmjgh-2019-002024DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7053783PMC
June 2021

Results-based financing as a strategic purchasing intervention: some progress but much further to go in Zimbabwe?

BMC Health Serv Res 2020 Mar 6;20(1):180. Epub 2020 Mar 6.

Policy and Planning, Ministry of Health and Child Care, Harare, Zimbabwe.

Background: Results-Based Financing (RBF) has proliferated in the health sectors of low and middle income countries, especially those which are fragile or conflict-affected, and has been presented by some as a way of reforming and strengthening strategic purchasing. However, few if any studies have empirically and systematically examined how RBF impacts on health care purchasing. This article examines this question in the context of Zimbabwe's national RBF programme.

Methods: The article is based on a documentary review, including 60 documents from 2008 to 2018, and 40 key informant (KI) interviews conducted with international, national and district level stakeholders in early 2018 in Zimbabwe. Interviews and analysis of both datasets followed an existing framework for strategic purchasing, adapted to reflect changes over.

Results: We find that some functions, such as assessing service infrastructure gaps, are unaffected by RBF, while others, such as mobilising resources, are partially affected, as RBF has focused on one package of care (maternal and child health services) within the wider essential health care, and has contributed important but marginal costs. Overall purchasing arrangements remain fragmented. Limited improvements have been made to community engagement. The clearest changes to purchasing arrangements relate to providers, at least in relation to the RBF services. Its achievements included enabling flexible resources to reach primary providers, funding supervision and emphasising the importance of reporting.

Conclusions: Our analysis suggests that RBF in Zimbabwe, at least at this early stage, is mainly functioning as an additional source of funding and as a provider payment mechanism, focussed on the primary care level for MCH services. RBF in this case brought focus to specific outputs but remained one provider payment mechanism amongst many, with limited traction over the main service delivery inputs and programmes. Zimbabwe's economic and political crisis provided an important entry point for RBF, but Zimbabwe did not present a 'blank slate' for RBF to reform: it was a functional health system pre-crisis, which enabled relatively swift scale-up of RBF but also meant that the potential for restructuring of institutional purchasing relationships was limited. This highlights the need for realistic and contextually tailored expectations of RBF.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1186/s12913-020-5037-6DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7059677PMC
March 2020

Building cooperative learning to address alcohol and other drug abuse in Mpumalanga, South Africa: a participatory action research process.

Glob Health Action 2020 ;13(1):1726722

Aberdeen Centre for Health Data Science (ACHDS) Institute of Applied Health Sciences, School of Medicine, Medical Sciences and Nutrition, University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen, Scotland, UK.

: Alcohol and other drug (AOD) abuse is a major public health challenge disproportionately affecting marginalised communities. Involving communities in the development of responses can contribute to acceptable solutions.: To: (1) document forms, processes, and contexts of engaging communities to nominate health concerns and generate new knowledge for action; (2) further build participation in the local health system by reflecting on and adapting the process.: PAR was progressed with 48 community stakeholders across three rural villages in the MRC/Wits Agincourt Health and Socio Demographic Surveillance System (HDSS) in Mpumalanga, South Africa. A series of workshops explored community-nominated topics, systematised lived experience into shared accounts and considered actions to address problems identified. Photovoice was also used to generate visual evidence. Narrative and visual data were thematically analysed, situated within practice frameworks, and learning and adaption elicited.: AOD abuse was identified as a topic of high priority. It was understood as an entrenched social problem with destructive effects. Biopsychosocial impacts were mapped and related to unemployment, poverty, stress, peer pressure, criminal activity, corruption, and a proliferating number of taverns. Integrated action agendas were developed focussed on demand, supply, and harm reduction underpinned by shared responsibility among community, state, and non-state actors. Community stakeholders appreciated systematising and sharing knowledge, taking active roles, developing new skills in planning and public speaking, and progressing shared accountability processes. Expectations required sensitive management, however.: There is significant willingness and capacity among community stakeholders to work in partnership with authorities to address priority health concerns. As a process, participation can help to raise and frame issues, which may help to better inform action and encourage shared responsibility. Broader understandings of participation require reference to, and ultimately transfer of power towards, those most directly affected, developing community voice as continuous processes within social and political environments.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/16549716.2020.1726722DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7067166PMC
November 2020

Verbal Autopsy with Participatory Action Research (VAPAR) programme in Mpumalanga, South Africa: protocol for evaluation.

BMJ Open 2020 02 4;10(2):e036597. Epub 2020 Feb 4.

Centre for Global Development, University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen, Aberdeen City, UK.

Introduction: There is a growing recognition of the importance of developing learning health systems which can engage all stakeholders in cycles of evidence generation, reflection, action and learning from action to deal with adaptive problems. There is however limited evaluative evidence of approaches to developing or strengthening such systems, particularly in low-income and middle-income settings. In this protocol, we aim to contribute to developing and sharing knowledge on models of building collaborative learning platforms through our evaluation of the Verbal Autopsy with Participatory Action Research (VAPAR) programme.

Methods And Analysis: The evaluation takes a participatory approach, focussed on joint learning on whether and how VAPAR contributes to its aims, and what can be learnt for this and similar settings. A realist-informed theory of change was developed by the research team as part of a broader collaboration with other stakeholders. The evaluation will draw on a wide variety of perspectives and data, including programme data and secondary data. This will be supplemented by in-depth interviews and workshops at the end of each cycle to probe the different domains, understand changes to the positions of different actors within the local health system and feedback into improved learning and action in the next cycle. Quantitative data such as verbal autopsy will be analysed for significant trends in health indicators for different population groups. However, the bulk of the data will be qualitative and will be analysed thematically.

Ethics And Dissemination: Ethics in participatory approaches include a careful focus on the power relationships within the group, such that all groups are given voice and influence, in addition to the usual considerations of informed participation. Within the programme, we will focus on reflexivity, relationship building, two-way learning and learning from failure to reduce power imbalances and mitigate against a blame culture. Local engagement and change will be prioritised in dissemination.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmjopen-2019-036597DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7045152PMC
February 2020

Opportunities and challenges for delivering non-communicable disease management and services in fragile and post-conflict settings: perceptions of policy-makers and health providers in Sierra Leone.

Confl Health 2020 6;14. Epub 2020 Jan 6.

5College of Medicine and Allied Health Sciences, University of Sierra Leone, Freetown, Sierra Leone.

Background: The growing burden of non-communicable diseases in low- and middle-income countries presents substantive challenges for health systems. This is also the case in fragile, post-conflict and post-Ebola Sierra Leone, where NCDs represent an increasingly significant disease burden (around 30% of adult men and women have raised blood pressure). To date, documentation of health system challenges and opportunities for NCD prevention and control is limited in such settings. This paper aims to identify opportunities and challenges in provision of NCD prevention and care and highlight lessons for Sierra Leone and other fragile states in the battle against the growing NCD epidemic.

Methods: This paper focuses on the case of Sierra Leone and uses a combination of participatory group model building at national and district level, in rural and urban districts, interviews with 28 key informants and review of secondary data and documents. Data is analysed using the WHO's health system assessment guide for NCDs.

Results: We highlight multiple challenges typical to those encountered in other fragile settings to the delivery of preventive and curative NCD services. There is limited government and donor commitment to financing and implementation of the national NCD policy and strategy, limited and poorly distributed health workforce and pharmaceuticals, high financial barriers for users, and lack of access to quality-assured medicines with consequent high recourse to private and informal care seeking. We identify how to strengthen the system within existing (low) resources, including through improved clinical guides and tools, more effective engagement with communities, and regulatory and fiscal measures.

Conclusion: Our study suggests that NCD prevention and control is of low but increasing priority in Sierra Leone; challenges to addressing this burden relate to huge numbers with NCDs (especially hypertension) requiring care, overall resource constraints and wider systemic issues, including poorly supported primary care services and access barriers. In addition to securing and strengthening political will and commitment and directing more resources and attention towards this area, there is a need for in-depth exploratory and implementation research to shape and test NCD interventions in fragile and post-conflict settings.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1186/s13031-019-0248-3DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6945746PMC
January 2020

Understanding fragility: implications for global health research and practice.

Health Policy Plan 2020 Mar;35(2):235-243

NIHR Research Unit on Health in Situations of Fragility, Institute for Global Health and Development, Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh, EH21 6UU, UK.

Advances in population health outcomes risk being slowed-and potentially reversed-by a range of threats increasingly presented as 'fragility'. Widely used and critiqued within the development arena, the concept is increasingly used in the field of global health, where its relationship to population health, health service delivery, access and utilization is poorly specified. We present the first scoping review seeking to clarify the meaning, definitions and applications of the term in the global health literature. Adopting the theoretical framework of concept analysis, 10 bibliographic and grey literature sources, and five key journals, were searched to retrieve documents relating to fragility and health. Reviewers screened titles and abstracts and retained documents applying the term fragility in relation to health systems, services, health outcomes and population or community health. Data were extracted according to the protocol; all documents underwent bibliometric analysis. Narrative synthesis was then used to identify defining attributes of the concept in the field of global health. A total of 377 documents met inclusion criteria. There has been an exponential increase in applications of the concept in published literature over the last 10 years. Formal definitions of the term continue to be focused on the characteristics of 'fragile and conflict-affected states'. However, synthesis indicates diverse use of the concept with respect to: level of application (e.g. from state to local community); emphasis on particular antecedent stressors (including factors beyond conflict and weak governance); and focus on health system or community resources (with an increasing tendency to focus on the interface between two). Amongst several themes identified, trust is noted as a key locus of fragility at this interface, with critical implications for health seeking, service utilization and health system and community resilience.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/heapol/czz142DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7050687PMC
March 2020

Health system resilience in the face of crisis: analysing the challenges, strategies and capacities for UNRWA in Syria.

Health Policy Plan 2020 Feb;35(1):26-35

Department of Epidemiology and Population Health, Faculty of Health Sciences, American University of Beirut, P.O. Box 11-0236, Riad El-Solh/Beirut 1107 2020, Lebanon.

Health system resilience reflects the ability to continue service delivery in the face of extraordinary shocks. We examined the case of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) and its delivery of services to Palestine refugees in Syria during the ongoing crisis to identify factors enabling system resilience. The study is a retrospective qualitative case study utilizing diverse methods. We conducted 35 semi-structured interviews with UNRWA clinical and administrative professionals engaged in health service delivery over the period of the Syria conflict. Through a group model building session with a sub-group of eight of these participants, we then elicited a causal loop diagram of health system functioning over the course of the war, identifying pathways of threat and mitigating resilience strategies. We triangulated analysis with data from UNRWA annual reports and routine health management information. The UNRWA health system generally sustained service provision despite individual, community and system challenges that arose during the conflict. We distinguish absorptive, adaptive and transformative capacities of the system facilitating this resilience. Absorptive capacities enabled immediate crisis response, drawing on available human and organizational resources. Adaptive capacities sustained service delivery through revised logistical arrangements, enhanced collaborative mechanisms and organizational flexibility. Transformative capacity was evidenced by the creation of new services in response to changing community needs. Analysis suggests factors such as staff commitment, organizational flexibility and availability of collaboration mechanisms were important assets in maintaining service continuity and quality. This evidence regarding alternative strategies adopted to sustain service delivery in Syria is of clear relevance to other actors seeking organizational resilience in crisis contexts.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/heapol/czz129DOI Listing
February 2020

Addressing challenges in tuberculosis adherence via performance-based payments for integrated case management: protocol for a cluster randomized controlled trial in Georgia.

Trials 2019 Aug 28;20(1):536. Epub 2019 Aug 28.

Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh, UK.

Background: Tuberculosis is one of the greatest global health concerns and disease management is challenging particularly in low- and middle-income countries. Despite improvements in addressing this epidemic in Georgia, tuberculosis remains a significant public health concern due to sub-optimal patient management. Low remuneration for specialists, limited private-sector interest in provision of infectious disease care and incomplete integration in primary care are at the core of this problem.

Methods: This protocol sets out the methods of a two-arm cluster randomized control trial which aims to generate evidence on the effectiveness of a performance-based financing and integrated care intervention on tuberculosis loss to follow-up and treatment adherence. The trial will be implemented in health facilities (clusters) under-performing in tuberculosis management. Eligible and consenting facilities will be randomly assigned to either intervention or control (standard care). Health providers within intervention sites will form a case management team and be trained in the delivery of integrated tuberculosis care; performance-related payments based on monthly records of patients adhering to treatment and quality of care assessments will be disbursed to health providers in these facilities. The primary outcomes include loss to follow-up among adult pulmonary drug-sensitive and drug-resistant tuberculosis patients. Secondary outcomes are adherence to treatment among drug-sensitive and drug-resistant tuberculosis patients and treatment success among drug-sensitive tuberculosis patients. Data on socio-demographic characteristics, tuberculosis diagnosis and treatment regimen will also be collected. The required sample size to detect a 6% reduction in loss to follow-up among drug-sensitive tuberculosis patients and a 20% reduction in loss to follow-up among drug-resistant tuberculosis patients is 948 and 136 patients, respectively.

Discussion: The trial contributes to a limited body of rigorous evidence and literature on the effectiveness of supply-side performance-based financing interventions on tuberculosis patient outcomes. Realist and health economic evaluations will be conducted in parallel with the trial, and associated composite findings will serve as a resource for the Georgian and wider regional Ministries of Health in relation to future tuberculosis and wider health policies. The trial and complementing evaluations are part of Results4TB, a multidisciplinary collaboration engaging researchers and Georgian policy and practice stakeholders in the design and evaluation of a context-sensitive tuberculosis management intervention.

Trial Registration: ISRCTN, ISRCTN14667607 . Registered on 14 January 2019.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1186/s13063-019-3621-zDOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6714082PMC
August 2019

Health system strengthening-Reflections on its meaning, assessment, and our state of knowledge.

Int J Health Plann Manage 2019 Oct 6;34(4):e1980-e1989. Epub 2019 Aug 6.

Department of Global Health and Development, Faculty of Public Health and Policy, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London, UK.

Comprehensive reviews of health system strengthening (HSS) interventions are rare, partly because of lack of clarity on definitions of the term but also the potentially huge scale of the evidence. We reflect on the process of undertaking such an evidence review recently, drawing out suggestions on definitions of HSS and approaches to assessment, as well as summarising some key conclusions from the current evidence base. The key elements of a clear definition include, in our view, consideration of scope (with effects cutting across building blocks in practice, even if not in intervention design, and also tackling more than one disease), scale (having national reach and cutting across levels of the system), sustainability (effects being sustained over time and addressing systemic blockages), and effects (impacting on health outcomes, equity, financial risk protection, and responsiveness). We also argue that agreeing a framework for design and evaluation of HSS is urgent. Most HSS interventions have theories of change relating to specific system blocks, but more work is needed on capturing their spillover effects and their contribution to meeting overarching health system process goals. We make some initial suggestions about such goals, to reflect the features that characterise a "strong health system." We highlight that current findings on "what works" are just indicative, given the limitations and biases in what has been studied and how, and argue that there is need to rethink evaluation methods for HSS beyond finite interventions and narrow outcomes. Clearer concepts, frameworks, and methods can support more coherent HSS investment.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/hpm.2882DOI Listing
October 2019

The political economy of results-based financing: the experience of the health system in Zimbabwe.

Glob Health Res Policy 2019 15;4:20. Epub 2019 Jul 15.

1ReBUILD programme, Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh, EH21 6UU UK.

Background: Since 2000, results based financing (RBF) has proliferated in health sectors in Africa in particular, including in fragile and conflict affected settings (FCAS) and there is a growing but still contested literature about its relevance and effectiveness. Less examined are the political economy factors behind the adoption of the RBF policy, as well as the shifts in influence and resources which RBF may bring about. In this article, we examine these two topics, focusing on Zimbabwe, which has rolled out RBF nationwide in the health system since 2011, with external support.

Methods: The study uses an adapted political economy framework, integrating data from 40 semi-structured interviews with local, national and international experts in 2018 and thematic analysis of 60 policy documents covering the decade between 2008 and 2018.

Results: Our findings highlight the role of donors in initiating the RBF policy, but also how the Zimbabwe health system was able to adapt the model to suit its particular circumstances - seeking to maintain a systemic approach, and avoiding fragmentation. Although Zimbabwe was highly resource dependent after the political-economic crisis of the 2000s, it retained managerial and professional capacity, which distinguishes it from many other FCAS settings. This active adaptation has engendered national ownership over time, despite initial resistance to the RBF model and despite the complexity of RBF, which creates dependence on external technical support. Adoption was also aided by ideological retro-fitting into an earlier government performance management policy. The main beneficiaries of RBF were frontline providers, who gained small but critical additional resources, but subject to high degrees of control and sanctions.

Conclusions: This study highlights resource-seeking motivations for adopting RBF in some low and middle income settings, especially fragile ones, but also the potential for local health system actors to shape and adapt RBF to suit their needs in some circumstances. This means less structural disruption in the health system and it increases the likelihood of an integrated approach and sustainability. We highlight the mix of autonomy and control which RBF can bring for frontline providers and argue for clearer understanding of the role that RBF commonly plays in these settings.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1186/s41256-019-0111-5DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6628468PMC
July 2019

'Water is life': developing community participation for clean water in rural South Africa.

BMJ Glob Health 2019 11;4(3):e001377. Epub 2019 Jun 11.

MRC/Wits Rural Public Health and Health Transitions Research Unit (Agincourt), School of Public Health, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa.

Background: South Africa is a semiarid country where 5 million people, mainly in rural areas, lack access to water. Despite legislative and policy commitments to the right to water, cooperative governance and public participation, many authorities lack the means to engage with and respond to community needs. The objectives were to develop local knowledge on health priorities in a rural province as part of a programme developing community evidence for policy and planning.

Methods: We engaged 24 participants across three villages in the Agincourt Health and Socio-Demographic Surveillance System and codesigned the study. This paper reports on lack of clean, safe water, which was nominated in one village (n=8 participants) and in which women of reproductive age were nominated as a group whose voices are excluded from attention to the issue. On this basis, additional participants were recruited (n=8). We then held a series of consensus-building workshops to develop accounts of the problem and actions to address it using Photovoice to document lived realities. Thematic analysis of narrative and visual data was performed.

Results: Repeated and prolonged periods when piped water is unavailable were reported, as was unreliable infrastructure, inadequate service delivery, empty reservoirs and poor supply exacerbated by droughts. Interconnected social, behavioural and health impacts were documented combined with lack of understanding, cooperation and trust between communities and authorities. There was unanimity among participants for taps in houses as an overarching goal and strategies to build an evidence base for planning and advocacy were developed.

Conclusion: In this setting, there is willingness among community stakeholders to improve water security and there are existing community assemblies to support this. Health and Socio-Demographic Surveillance Systems provide important opportunities to routinely connect communities to resource management and service delivery. Developing learning platforms with government and non-government organisations may offer a means to enable more effective public participation in decentralised water governance.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmjgh-2018-001377DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6570987PMC
June 2019

Rethinking collaboration: developing a learning platform to address under-five mortality in Mpumalanga province, South Africa.

Health Policy Plan 2019 Jul;34(6):418-429

MRC/Wits Rural Public Health and Health Transitions Research Unit (Agincourt), School of Public Health, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, Johannesburg, South Africa.

Following 50 years of apartheid, South Africa introduced visionary health policy committing to the right to health as part of a primary health care (PHC) approach. Implementation is seriously challenged, however, in an often-dysfunctional health system with scarce resources and a complex burden of avoidable mortality persists. Our aim was to develop a process generating evidence of practical relevance on implementation processes among people excluded from access to health systems. Informed by health policy and systems research, we developed a collaborative learning platform in which we worked as co-researchers with health authorities in a rural province. This article reports on the process and insights brought by health systems stakeholders. Evidence gaps on under-five mortality were identified with a provincial Directorate after which we collected quantitative and qualitative data. We applied verbal autopsy to quantify levels, causes and circumstances of deaths and participatory action research to gain community perspectives on the problem and priorities for action. We then re-convened health systems stakeholders to analyse and interpret these data through which several systems issues were identified as contributory to under-five deaths: staff availability and performance; service organization and infrastructure; multiple parallel initiatives; and capacity to address social determinants. Recommendations were developed ranging from immediate low- and no-cost re-organization of services to those where responses from higher levels of the system or outside were required. The process was viewed as acceptable and relevant for an overburdened system operating 'in the dark' in the absence of local data. Institutional infrastructure for evidence-based decision-making does not exist in many health systems. We developed a process connecting research evidence on rural health priorities with the means for action and enabled new partnerships between communities, authorities and researchers. Further development is planned to understand potential in deliberative processes for rural PHC.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/heapol/czz047DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6736195PMC
July 2019

Health systems research in fragile settings.

Bull World Health Organ 2019 Jun;97(6):378-378A

NIHR Research Unit on Health in Situations of Fragility, Queen Margaret University, Queen Margaret Drive, Edinburgh, EH21 6UU, Scotland.

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http://dx.doi.org/10.2471/BLT.19.233965DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6560370PMC
June 2019

Health financing in fragile and conflict-affected settings: What do we know, seven years on?

Soc Sci Med 2019 07 19;232:209-219. Epub 2019 Apr 19.

Institute for Global Health and Development, Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh, UK. Electronic address:

Over the last few years, there has been growing attention to health systems research in fragile and conflict-affected setting (FCAS) from both researchers and donors. In 2012, an exploratory literature review was conducted to analyse the main themes and findings of recent literature focusing on health financing in FCAS. Seven years later, this paper presents an update of that review, reflecting on what has changed in terms of the knowledge base, and what are the on-going gaps and new challenges in our understanding of health financing in FCAS. A total of 115 documents were reviewed following a purposeful, non-systematic search of grey and published literature. Data were analysed according to key health financing themes, ensuring comparability with the 2012 review. Bibliometric analysis suggests that the field has continued to grow, and is skewed towards countries with a large donor presence (such as Afghanistan). Aid coordination remains the largest single topic within the themes, likely reflecting the dominance of external players, not just substantively but also in relation to research. Many studies are commissioned by external agencies and in addition to concerns about independence of findings there is also likely a neglect of smaller, more home-grown reforms. In addition, we find that despite efforts to coordinate approaches across humanitarian and developmental settings, the literature remains distinct between them. We highlight research gaps, including empirical analysis of domestic and external financing trends across FCAS and non-FCAS over time, to understand better common health financing trajectories, what drives them and their implications. We highlight a dearth of evidence in relation to health financing goals and objectives for UHC (such as equity, efficiency, financial access), which is significant given the relevance of UHC, and the importance of the social and political values which different health financing arrangements can communicate, which also merit in-depth study.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.socscimed.2019.04.019DOI Listing
July 2019

(How) does RBF strengthen strategic purchasing of health care? Comparing the experience of Uganda, Zimbabwe and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Glob Health Res Policy 2019 31;4. Epub 2019 Jan 31.

2School of Public Health, Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda.

Background: Results-Based Financing (RBF) has proliferated in health sectors of low and middle income countries, especially fragile and conflict-affected ones, and has been presented as a way of reforming and strengthening strategic purchasing. However, few studies have empirically examined how RBF impacts on health care purchasing in these settings. This article examines the effects of several RBF programmes on health care purchasing functions in three fragile and post-conflict settings: Uganda, Zimbabwe and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) over the past decade.

Methods: The article is based on a documentary review, including 110 documents from 2004 to 2018, and 98 key informant (KI) interviews conducted with international, national and district level stakeholders in early 2018 in the selected districts of the three countries. Interviews and analysis followed an adapted framework for strategic purchasing, which was also used to compare across the case studies.

Results: Across the cases, at the government level, we find little change to the accountability of purchasers, but RBF does mobilise additional resources to support entitlements. In relation to the population, RBF appears to bring in improvements in specifying and informing about entitlements for some services. However, the engagement and consultation with the population on their needs was found to be limited. In relation to providers, RBF did not impact in any major way on provider accreditation and selection, or on treatment guidelines. However, it did introduce a more contractual relationship for some providers and bring about (at least partial) improvements in provider payment systems, data quality, increased financial autonomy for primary providers and enforcing equitable strategies. More generally, RBF has been a source of much-needed revenue at primary care level in under-funded health systems. The context - particularly the degree of stability and authority of government-, the design of the RBF programme and the potential for effective integration of RBF in existing systems and its stage of development were key factors behind differences observed.

Conclusions: Our evidence suggests that expectations of RBF as an instrument of systemic reform should be nuanced, while focusing instead on expanding the key areas of potential gain and ensuring better integration and institutionalisation, towards which two of the three case study countries are working.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1186/s41256-019-0094-2DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6354347PMC
January 2019

What, why and how do health systems learn from one another? Insights from eight low- and middle-income country case studies.

Health Res Policy Syst 2019 Jan 21;17(1). Epub 2019 Jan 21.

Oxford Policy Management (OPM), Oxford, United Kingdom.

Background: All health systems struggle to meet health needs within constrained resources. This is especially true for low-income countries. It is critical that they can learn from wider contexts in order to improve their performance. This article examines policy transfer and evidence use linked to it in low- and middle-income settings. The objective was to inform international investments in improved learning across health systems.

Methods: The article uses a comparative case study design, drawing on case studies conducted in Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Ethiopia, Georgia, Nepal, Rwanda and Solomon Islands. One or two recent health system reforms were selected in each case and 148 key informants were interviewed in total, using a semi-structured tool focused on different stages of the policy cycle. Interviewees were selected for their engagement in the policy process and represented political, technical, development partner, non-governmental, academic and civil society constituencies. Data analysis used a framework approach, allowing for new themes to be developed inductively, focusing initially on each case and then on patterns across cases.

Results: The selected policies demonstrated a range of influences of externally imposed, co-produced and home-grown solutions on the development of initial policy ideas. Eventual uptake of policy was strongly driven in most settings by local political economic considerations. Policy development post-adoption demonstrated some strong internal review, monitoring and sharing processes but there is a more contested view of the role of evaluation. In many cases, learning was facilitated by direct personal relationships with local development partner staff. While barriers and facilitators to evidence use included supply and demand factors, the most influential facilitators were incentives and capacity to use evidence.

Conclusions: These findings emphasise the agency of local actors and the importance of developing national and sub-national institutions for gathering, filtering and sharing evidence. Developing demand for and capacity to use evidence appears more important than augmenting supply of evidence, although specific gaps in supply were identified. The findings also highlight the importance of the local political economy in setting parameters within which evidence is considered and the need for a conceptual framework for health system learning.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1186/s12961-018-0410-1DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6341535PMC
January 2019

Delivering reproductive health services through non-state providers in Pakistan: understanding the value for money of different approaches.

Glob Health Res Policy 2018 4;3:33. Epub 2018 Dec 4.

2Institute for Global Health and Development, Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh, UK.

Background: Delivering Reproductive Health Results(DRHR) programme used social franchising (SF) and social marketing (SM) approaches to increase the supply of high quality family planning services in underserved areas of Pakistan. We assessed the costs, cost-efficiency and cost-effectiveness of DRHR to understand the value for money of these approaches.

Methods: Financial and economic programme costs were calculated. Costs to individual users were captured in a pre-post survey. The cost per couple years of protection (CYP) and cost per new user were estimated as indicators of cost efficiency. For the cost-effectiveness analysis we estimated the cost per clinical outcome averted and the cost per disability-adjusted life year (DALY) averted.

Results: Approximately £20 million were spent through the DRHR programme between July 2012 and September 2015 on commodities and services representing nearly four million CYPs. Based on programme data, the cumulative cost-efficiency of the entire DRHR programme was £4.8 per CYP. DRHR activities would avert one DALY at the cost of £20. Financial access indicators generally improved in programme areas, but the magnitude of progress varies across indicators.

Conclusions: The SF and SM approaches adopted in DRHR appear to be cost effective relative to comparable reproductive health programmes. This paper adds to the limited evidence on the cost-effectiveness of different models of reproductive health care provision in low- and middle-income settings. Further studies are needed to nuance the understanding of the determinants of impact and value for money of SF and SM.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1186/s41256-018-0089-4DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6278166PMC
December 2018

The bumpy trajectory of performance-based financing for healthcare in Sierra Leone: agency, structure and frames shaping the policy process.

Global Health 2018 10 20;14(1):99. Epub 2018 Oct 20.

ReBUILD & Institute for Global Health and Development (IGHD), Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh, UK.

Background: As performance-based financing (PBF) has been increasingly implemented in low-income countries, a growing literature has developed, assessing its effectiveness and, more recently, focussing on the political dynamics of PBF introduction and implementation. This study contributes to the latter body of literature by exploring decision-making processes on PBF in Sierra Leone during the 2010-2017 period. Sierra Leone presents an interesting case because of the 'start-stop-start' trajectory of PBF.

Methods: The qualitative case study is based on a document review and 25 key informant interviews with national stakeholders and international actors. Documents and interviews were analysed based on a political economy framework focusing on actors and structure, but also making use of concepts drawn from interpretive policy analysis to look at frames.

Results: Our analysis describes the process of negotiation and re-negotiation of PBF in Sierra Leone, highlighting the role of different players, both internal and external, their ideas, capacity and power relations, and the shifting narratives around PBF. It is shown that external actors driving the debate make use of 'frames', both actual (i.e., defining the timing and pace of the discussions, the funding available, etc.) and metaphorical (i.e., how PBF is interpreted, defined and understood) to fit in and influence the debate. This is facilitated by the lack of capacity and resources in the fragile setting. Other strategies, such as 'venue shopping' are employed, though they may add to fragmentation in the volatile context.

Conclusions: The retrospective view of the study has an analytical advantage, but findings are also relevant to guide practice. Although power relations and rent-seeking issues are difficult to overcome in resource and capacity-constrained settings, more attention could be paid to other elements. In particular, adopting shared frames to ensure a common and inclusive understanding of technical concepts such as PBF may be useful to ensure the political sustainability of reforms. Also, the 'actual frames' which define negotiation and implementation should remain flexible, allowing for disrupting events (e.g., the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone) as well as for time to develop national capacity and ownership in order to ensure longer-term political support and better health system integration.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1186/s12992-018-0417-yDOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6195985PMC
October 2018

Embedded health service development and research: why and how to do it (a ten-stage guide).

Health Res Policy Syst 2018 Jul 25;16(1):67. Epub 2018 Jul 25.

Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

In a world of changing disease burdens, poor quality care and constrained health budgets, finding effective approaches to developing and implementing evidence-based health services is crucial. Much has been published on developing service tools and protocols, operational research and getting policy into practice but these are often undertaken in isolation from one another. This paper, based on 25 years of experience in a range of low and middle income contexts as well as wider literature, presents a systematic approach to connecting these activities in an embedded development and research approach. This approach can circumvent common problems such as lack of local ownership of new programmes, unrealistic resource requirements and poor implementation.We lay out a ten-step process, which is based on long-term partnerships and working within local systems and constraints and may be tailored to the context and needs. Service development and operational research is best prioritised, designed, conducted and replicated when it is embedded within ministry of health and national programmes. Care packages should from the outset be designed for scale-up, which is why the piloting stage is so crucial. In this way, the resulting package of care will be feasible within the context and will address local priorities. Researchers must be entrepreneurial and responsive to windows of funding for scale-up, working in real-world contexts where funding and decisions do not wait for evidence, so evidence generation has to be pragmatic to meet and ensure best use of the policy and financing cycles. The research should generate tested and easily usable tools, training materials and processes for use in scale-up. Development of the package should work within and strengthen the health system and other service delivery strategies to ensure that unintended negative consequences are minimised and that the strengthened systems support quality care and effective scale up of the package.While embedded development and research is promoted in theory, it is not yet practiced at scale by many initiatives, leading to wasted resources and un-sustained programmes. This guide presents a systematic and practical guide to support more effective engagements in future, both in developing interventions and supporting evidence-based scale-up.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1186/s12961-018-0344-7DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6060510PMC
July 2018

"Three Nooses on Our Head": The Influence of District Health Reforms on Maternal Health Service Delivery in Vietnam.

Int J Health Policy Manag 2018 07 1;7(7):593-602. Epub 2018 Jul 1.

Menzies Centre for Health Policy, University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW, Australia.

Background: The impact of reorganisation on health services delivery is a recurring issue in every healthcare system. In 2005 Vietnam reorganised the delivery of health services at the district level by splitting preventive, curative, and administrative roles. This qualitative study explored how these reforms impacted on the organisation of maternal health service delivery at district and commune levels.

Methods: Forty-three semi-structured interviews were conducted with health staff and managers involved in the provision of maternal health services from the commune to the central level within five districts of two Northern provinces in Vietnam. The data were analysed thematically.

Results: The results showed that 10 years after the reforms created three district-level entities, participants reported difficulties in management of health services at the district and commune levels in Vietnam. The reforms were largely perceived to negatively affect the efficient and effective use of clinical and other resources. At the commune level, the reforms are said to have affected the quality of supervision of the communes and their staff and increased the workload in community health centres.

Conclusion: The findings from this study suggest that the current organisation of district health services in Vietnam may have had unintended negative consequences. It also indicates that countries which decide to reform their systems in a manner similar to Vietnam need to pay attention to coordination between a multiplicity of agencies at the district level.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.15171/ijhpm.2017.134DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6037493PMC
July 2018
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