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1.  Iraqi health system in kurdistan region: medical professionals' perspectives on challenges and priorities for improvement 
Conflict and Health  2010;4:19.
Background
The views of medical professionals on efficiency of health system and needs for any changes are very critical and constitute a cornerstone for any health system improvement. This is particularly relevant to Iraqi Kurdistan case as the events of the last few decades have significantly devastated the national Iraqi health system while the necessity for adopting a new health care system is increasingly recognized since 2004. This study aims to examine the regional health system in Iraqi Kurdistan from medical professionals' perspectives and try to define its problems and priorities for improvement.
Methods
A survey questionnaire was developed and administered to a convenience sample of 250 medical professionals in Erbil governorate. The questionnaire included four items; rating of the quality of services and availability of resources in the health institutions, view on different aspects of the health system, the perceived priority needs for health system improvement and gender and professional characteristics of the respondents.
Results
The response rate to the survey was 83.6%. A high proportion of respondents rated the different aspects of services and resources in the health institutions as weak or very weak including the availability of the required quantity and quality of medicines (68.7%), the availability of sufficient medical equipment and investigation tools (68.7%), and the quality of offered services (65.3%). Around 72% of respondents had a rather negative view on the overall health system. The weak role of medical research, the weak role of professional associations in controlling the system and the inefficient health education were identified as important problems in the current health system (87.9%, 87.1% and 84.9%, respectively). The priority needs of health system improvement included adoption of social insurance for medical care of the poor (82%), enhancing the role of family medicine (77.2%), adopting health insurance system (76.1%) and periodic scientific evaluation of physicians and other health staff (69.8%).
Conclusion
Medical professionals were generally unsatisfied with the different aspects of the health system in Iraqi Kurdistan region. A number of problems and different priority needs for health system improvement have been recognized that require to be studied in more details.
doi:10.1186/1752-1505-4-19
PMCID: PMC3003630  PMID: 21118537
2.  Expansion of health facilities in Iraq a decade after the US-led invasion, 2003–2012 
Conflict and Health  2014;8:16.
Background
In the last few decades, Iraq’s health care capacity has been severely undermined by the effects of different wars, international sanctions, sectarian violence and political instability. In the aftermath of the 2003 US-led invasion, the Ministry of Health has set plans to expand health service delivery, by reorienting the public sector towards primary health care and attributing a larger role to the private sector for hospital care. Quantitative assessments of the post-2003 health policy outcomes have remained scant. This paper addresses this gap focusing on a key outcome indicator that is the expansion of health facilities.
Methods
The analysis is based on data on health facilities provided by the World Health Organisation and Iraq’s Ministry of Health. For each governorate, we calculated the change in the absolute number of facilities by type from early 2003 to the end of 2012. To account for population growth, we computed the change in the number of facilities per 100,000 population. We compared trends in the autonomous northern Kurdistan region, which has been relatively stable from 2003 onwards, and in the rest of Iraq (centre/south), where fragile institutions and persistent sectarian strife have posed major challenges to health system recovery.
Results
The countrywide number of primary health care centres per 100,000 population rose from 5.5 in 2003 to 7.4 in 2012. The extent of improvement varied significantly within the country, with an average increase of 4.3 primary health care centres per 100,000 population in the Kurdistan region versus an average increase of only 1.4 in central/southern Iraq. The average number of public hospitals per 100,000 population rose from 1.3 to 1.5 in Kurdistan, whereas it remained at 0.6 in centre/south. The average number of private hospitals per 100,000 population rose from 0.2 to 0.6 in Kurdistan, whereas it declined from 0.3 to 0.2 in centre/south.
Conclusions
The expansion of both public and private health facilities in the Kurdistan region appears encouraging, but still much should be done to reach the standards of neighbouring countries. The slow pace of improvement in the rest of Iraq is largely attributable to the dire security situation and should be a cause for major concern.
doi:10.1186/1752-1505-8-16
PMCID: PMC4163049  PMID: 25221620
Iraq; Fragile and conflict affected states; Health system rehabilitation; Health facilities
3.  Using Q-methodology to explore people’s health seeking behavior and perception of the quality of primary care services 
BMC Public Health  2014;14:2.
Background
Information on health seeking behavior and beneficiaries’ perception of the quality of primary care can help policy makers to set strategies to improve health system. With scarcity of research on this particular field in Iraqi Kurdistan region, we sought to explore the patterns of health seeking behavior and perception of the quality of primary care services of a sample of population.
Methods
This explorative study was carried out in Erbil governorate, Iraq. Data were collected using the novel approach of Q-methodology for eliciting subjective viewpoints and identifying shared patterns among individuals. Forty persons representing different demographic and socioeconomic groups and living in different areas of Erbil governorate sorted 50 statements reflecting different aspects of health-seeking behavior and primary care services into a distribution on a scale of nine from “disagree most” to “agree most”. By-person factor analysis through centroid factor extraction and varimax rotation of factors were used to derive latent viewpoints.
Results
Four distinct patterns of health seeking behavior and viewpoints toward the primary care services were identified. People in factor 1 are extremely critical of the services at primary health care centers and are regular users of the private health sector. People in factor 2 positively recognize the services at primary health care centers but mainly turn to inappropriate health seeking behavior. People in factor 3 have satisfaction with the services at primary health care centers with minimal use of these services, but mainly turn to the private sector. People in factor 4 are slightly satisfied with the services at primary health care centers but mainly rely on these services.
Conclusions
This study highlighted the typical characterizations that were associated with each uncovered factor. Informing on the beneficiaries’ concerns about the primary care services can help to improve the system through further exploring the issues raised by the respondents and directing particular action on these issues. The characterizing and distinguishing statements can be used as a set of questions to conduct community-based survey on this important aspect of health services.
doi:10.1186/1471-2458-14-2
PMCID: PMC3882479  PMID: 24387106
Primary care; Health seeking; Perception; Factors
4.  The range and diversity of providers’ viewpoints towards the Iraqi primary health care system: an exploration using Q-methodology 
Background
The increasingly recognized need for reorganizing the primary health care services in Iraq calls for a comprehensive assessment of the system to better understand its problems and needs for development. As part of such comprehensive assessment and due to the important role of primary health care providers in adopting any change, we ought to explore the range and diversity of viewpoints of primary health care providers towards the Iraqi primary health care system.
Methods
This explorative study was carried out in Erbil governorate, Iraq from May to July 2011. Data were collected from primary health care providers using Q-methodology to elicit subjective viewpoints and identify shared patterns among individuals. Forty primary health care providers representing eight primary health care centers sorted 41 statements reflecting different aspects of the Iraqi primary health care system into a distribution on a scale of nine from “disagree most” to “agree most”. By-person factor analysis was used to derive latent viewpoints through centroid factor extraction and varimax rotation of factors.
Results
Analysis of the participants’ Q-sorts resulted in four distinct viewpoints among primary health care providers toward the current primary health care system. One factor emphasized positive aspects of the current primary health care system that is content with the current primary health care system. The other three factors highlighted the negative aspects and they included (i) professionally-centered viewpoint, (ii) comprehensive perception and problem-based solutions and (iii) critical to leadership/governance aspects of the system.
Conclusions
This study revealed diverse viewpoints of primary health care providers toward the current Iraqi primary health care system and recognized the particular issues related to each viewpoint. The findings can contribute to a better understanding of health policy makers and primary health care managers concerning the problems facing the primary health care system that might contribute to change in the management of this system.
doi:10.1186/1472-698X-13-18
PMCID: PMC3606603  PMID: 23514334
Primary health care; Q-methodology; Providers; Assessment
5.  The impact of health system governance and policy processes on health services in Iraqi Kurdistan 
Background
Relative to the amount of global attention and media coverage since the first and second Gulf Wars, very little has been published in the health services research literature regarding the state of health services in Iraq, and particularly on the semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan. Building on findings from a field visit, this paper describes the state of health services in Kurdistan, analyzes their underlying governance structures and policy processes, and their overall impact on the quality, accessibility and cost of the health system, while stressing the importance of reinvesting in public health and community-based primary care.
Discussion
Very little validated, research-based data exists relating to the state of population health and health services in Kurdistan. What little evidence exists, points to a region experiencing an epidemiological polarization, with different segments of the population experiencing rapidly-diverging rates of morbidity and mortality related to different etiological patterns of communicable, non-communicable, acute and chronic illness and disease. Simply put, the rural poor suffer from malnutrition and cholera, while the urban middle and upper classes deal with issues of obesity and Type 2 diabetes. The inequity is exacerbated by a poorly governed, fragmented, unregulated, specialized and heavily privatized system, that not only leads to poor quality of care and catastrophic health expenditures, but also threatens the economic and political stability of the region. There is an urgent need to revisit and clearly define the core values and goals of a future health system, and to develop an inclusive governance and policy framework for change, towards a more equitable and effective primary care-based health system, with attention to broader social determinants of health and salutogenesis.
Summary
This paper not only frames the situation in Kurdistan in terms of a human rights or special political issue of a minority population, but provides important generalizable lessons for other constituencies, highlighting the need for political action before effective public health policies can be implemented - as embodied by Rudolf Virchow, the father of European public health and pathology, in his famous quote "politics is nothing but medicine at a larger scale".
doi:10.1186/1472-698X-10-14
PMCID: PMC2908065  PMID: 20529346
6.  Violent Deaths of Iraqi Civilians, 2003–2008: Analysis by Perpetrator, Weapon, Time, and Location 
PLoS Medicine  2011;8(2):e1000415.
Madelyn Hsiao-Rei Hicks and colleagues provide a detailed analysis of Iraqi civilian violent deaths during 2003-2008 of the Iraq war and show that of 92,614 deaths, unknown perpetrators caused 74% of deaths, Coalition forces 12%, and Anti-Coalition forces 11%.
Background
Armed violence is a major public health and humanitarian problem in Iraq. In this descriptive statistical analysis we aimed to describe for the first time Iraqi civilian deaths caused by perpetrators of armed violence during the first 5 years of the Iraq war: over time; by weapon used; by region (governorate); and by victim demographics.
Methods and Findings
We analyzed the Iraq Body Count database of 92,614 Iraqi civilian direct deaths from armed violence occurring from March 20, 2003 through March 19, 2008, of which Unknown perpetrators caused 74% of deaths (n = 68,396), Coalition forces 12% (n = 11,516), and Anti-Coalition forces 11% (n = 9,954). We analyzed the subset of 60,481 civilian deaths from 14,196 short-duration events of lethal violence to link individual civilian deaths to events involving perpetrators and their methods. One-third of civilian violent death was from extrajudicial executions by Unknown perpetrators; quadratic regression shows these deaths progressively and disproportionately increased as deaths from other forms of violence increased across Iraq's governorates. The highest average number of civilians killed per event in which a civilian died were in Unknown perpetrator suicide bombings targeting civilians (19 per lethal event) and Coalition aerial bombings (17 per lethal event). In temporal analysis, numbers of civilian deaths from Coalition air attacks, and woman and child deaths from Coalition forces, peaked during the invasion. We applied a Woman and Child “Dirty War Index” (DWI), measuring the proportion of women and children among civilian deaths of known demographic status, to the 22,066 civilian victims identified as men, women, or children to indicate relatively indiscriminate perpetrator effects. DWI findings suggest the most indiscriminate effects on women and children were from Unknown perpetrators using mortar fire (DWI  = 79) and nonsuicide vehicle bombs (DWI  = 54) and from Coalition air attacks (DWI  = 69). Coalition forces had higher Woman and Child DWIs than Anti-Coalition forces, with no evidence of decrease over 2003–2008, for all weapons combined and for small arms gunfire, specifically.
Conclusions
Most Iraqi civilian violent deaths during 2003–2008 of the Iraq war were inflicted by Unknown perpetrators, primarily through extrajudicial executions that disproportionately increased in regions with greater numbers of violent deaths. Unknown perpetrators using suicide bombs, vehicle bombs, and mortars had highly lethal and indiscriminate effects on the Iraqi civilians they targeted. Deaths caused by Coalition forces of Iraqi civilians, women, and children peaked during the invasion period, with relatively indiscriminate effects from aerial weapons.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Civilian deaths through armed violence is a public health and humanitarian problem in all wars, despite internationally agreed humanitarian standards regarding the treatment of civilians during wars—so-called laws of war such as the Geneva Conventions. Since the Iraq war began on March 20, 2003, when a multilateral force led by US and UK troops invaded Iraq, more than 100,000 Iraqi civilians (women, children, noncombatants, and police carrying out nonparamilitary duties) have died because of armed violence, according to the Iraq Body Count (IBC), a nongovernmental project that collates media reports of deaths of individual Iraqi civilians and cross-checks these reports with data from hospitals, morgues, nongovernmental organizations, and official figures. Indeed, according to a recent assessment of the global burden of armed violence, in 2006, people living in Iraq had the highest risk of dying violently in conflict. In that year, there were 91 violent deaths per 100,000 people in the country.
Why Was This Study Done?
Detailed analysis of civilian deaths during wars is important because it can improve the understanding of the impact of these deaths on general public health and on vulnerable subgroups in the population. In addition, data collected on the nature and effects of violence can guide the development of preventative policies. For example, an analysis that reveals that air attacks by invading troops cause a high proportion of civilian deaths might encourage policy changes that prohibit air attacks on populated areas. Finally, by linking violent deaths to perpetrators, analyses of civilian deaths can provide an indicator of combatants' compliance with the laws of war, which require the protection of civilians from targeted or indiscriminate harm. Here, IBC researchers provide a descriptive statistical analysis of Iraqi civilian deaths directly caused by perpetrators of armed violence during the first 5 years of the Iraq war.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
According to data from the Iraq Body Count, more than 92,000 Iraqi civilians died because of armed violence during this period. Coalition forces (identified by uniforms) caused 12% of these deaths, anti-coalition forces (un-uniformed combatants identified by attacks on coalition targets) caused 11% of the deaths; and unknown perpetrators, who targeted civilians and were indistinguishable from their victims (for example, a suicide bomber in a market), were responsible for three-quarters of civilian deaths. To link individual deaths with perpetrators and their methods, the researchers analyzed the 60,481 civilian deaths caused by short-duration events of lethal violence (events that lasted less than 24 hours and that occurred in a specific location; for example, overnight air strikes). Extrajudicial executions by unknown perpetrators were responsible for one-third of these deaths and disproportionately increased as deaths from other forms of violence increased across Iraq. Unknown perpetrator suicide bombings that targeted civilians and coalition aerial bombings killed most civilians per lethal event (19 and 17 deaths per lethal event on average, respectively). Finally, the researchers calculated the proportion of women and children among civilian deaths. Because men are the main targets of armed violence, this proportion—the “Dirty War Index” (DWI)—indicates the scale of indiscriminate killing in a conflict. The most indiscriminate effects on women and children in Iraq were from unknown perpetrators firing mortars (DWI  = 79) and nonsuicide vehicle bombs (DWI  = 54), and from coalition air attacks (DWI  = 69). Coalition forces had a higher DWI than anti-coalition forces for all weapons combined, with no decrease over the study period.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings show that during the first 5 years of the Iraq war, civilian deaths varied over time and location and in terms of victim characteristics and targeting of civilians. Although limited to direct deaths and possibly subject to some media bias, these findings show that most civilian deaths were inflicted by unknown perpetrators, and that unknown perpetrators had particularly lethal and indiscriminate effects on Iraqi civilians. However, they also show that Coalition forces had indiscriminate lethal effects on civilian populations. In part, this may be because Coalition forces had a high risk of killing civilians accidentally because they could not easily recognize anti-coalition combatants fighting without uniforms among civilians. Nevertheless, the relatively indiscriminate effects of Coalition aerial weapons highlight the need to change policies relating to the use of air power in future armed conflicts.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000415.
This study is further discussed in a PLoS Medicine Perspective by Robert Muggah
The International Committee of the Red Cross provides information about war and International humanitarian law (in several languages)
The Geneva Declaration on Armed Violence and Development Web site provides information on the global burden of armed violence
More details on the Iraq Body Count are available
The Human Security Report Project tracks global and regional trends in organized violence, their causes, and consequences
Every Casualty supports and is a resource for the documentation of individual casualties of armed conflict
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000415
PMCID: PMC3039690  PMID: 21358813
7.  Quality of Private and Public Ambulatory Health Care in Low and Middle Income Countries: Systematic Review of Comparative Studies 
PLoS Medicine  2011;8(4):e1000433.
Paul Garner and colleagues conducted a systematic review of 80 studies to compare the quality of private versus public ambulatory health care in low- and middle-income countries.
Background
In developing countries, the private sector provides a substantial proportion of primary health care to low income groups for communicable and non-communicable diseases. These providers are therefore central to improving health outcomes. We need to know how their services compare to those of the public sector to inform policy options.
Methods and Findings
We summarised reliable research comparing the quality of formal private versus public ambulatory health care in low and middle income countries. We selected studies against inclusion criteria following a comprehensive search, yielding 80 studies. We compared quality under standard categories, converted values to a linear 100% scale, calculated differences between providers within studies, and summarised median values of the differences across studies. As the results for for-profit and not-for-profit providers were similar, we combined them. Overall, median values indicated that many services, irrespective of whether public or private, scored low on infrastructure, clinical competence, and practice. Overall, the private sector performed better in relation to drug supply, responsiveness, and effort. No difference between provider groups was detected for patient satisfaction or competence. Synthesis of qualitative components indicates the private sector is more client centred.
Conclusions
Although data are limited, quality in both provider groups seems poor, with the private sector performing better in drug availability and aspects of delivery of care, including responsiveness and effort, and possibly being more client orientated. Strategies seeking to influence quality in both groups are needed to improve care delivery and outcomes for the poor, including managing the increasing burden of non-communicable diseases.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
The provision of private (“for-profit” hospitals and self-employed practitioners, and “not-for-profit” non-government providers, including faith-based organizations) versus public health care services in low and middle income countries raises considerable ideological debate. Ideological arguments aside—which can be very passionate on both sides—there is general agreement that improving the quality of both public and private health care could have a major impact on improved health outcomes, especially as the private sector is so widely used in low and middle income countries. For example, almost three quarters and half of children from the poorest households of South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, respectively, seek health care from a private provider when they are ill. Private providers are also increasingly responsible for outpatient care for non-communicable diseases.
As a result of the mixed health care system in many low and middle income countries, adequate oversight and stewardship of the mixed system from the national government is essential yet often missing.
Why Was This Study Done?
An understanding of how quality and performance in the private sector compares with that in the public sector would help governments to prioritize where they need to concentrate their efforts. So, for example, if the private sector is generally providing poorer quality care than the public sector, then there is an imperative to improve the quality and outcomes; on the other hand, if the quality of care offered by the private sector is good, the policy priority is to influence the market to further improve access to such health care for low income groups.
In order to help with this comparison, the researchers wanted to systematically identify and summarize the results of studies that directly compared the quality of care offered by public providers with the one offered by “formal” private providers (recognized by law) and “informal” private providers (providers that are not legally recognized, such as lay health workers and shop keepers). For the purposes of this study the researchers focused their comparison on the private and public provision of outpatient care in low and middle income countries.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
In their literature review, the researchers searched for relevant studies reported in English, French, or German and published between January 1970 and April 2009. Only studies that compared private and public outpatient medical services in the same country, at the same time, using the same methods, and which met particular quality criteria, were included in the analysis. The researchers also had strict criteria for including qualitative studies, and they retrieved the full text of articles, contacted study authors where appropriate, and verified with a second researcher most (80%) of the extracted study data. In order to evaluate and compare the studies, the researchers converted study values to a linear 100% scale, calculated differences between providers within studies, and summarized the median values of the differences across studies.
The researchers identified a total of 8,812 relevant titles and abstracts and found 80 studies that included direct quantitative comparisons of public and private formal providers. Ten studies included qualitative data. Most studies were conducted after 1990, and mainly in sub-Saharan Africa (n = 39) and Asia and the Pacific (n = 23). Most studies did not report socio-economic status of public and private service users, and only five studies presented data by different income groups. No study compared the same individual providers working in public and private care settings. Only two studies compared public providers and private informal providers, so the authors excluded these from subsequent analysis.
For the formal sector, since the results for “for-profit” and “not-for-profit” providers were similar, the researchers decided to combine the results. Overall, the researchers found that the median values indicated that many services, irrespective of whether public or private, scored low (less than 50%) on infrastructure, clinical competence, and practice. Generally, the private sector performed better in relation to drug supply, responsiveness, and effort, but there was no detectable difference between provider groups for patient satisfaction. Furthermore, a synthesis of qualitative data suggested that the private sector may be more client-centered.
What Do These Findings Mean?
Based on the findings of this review, there is a clear need to consider the quality of primary health services in both the public and private sector in order to improve health outcomes in low and middle income countries. These findings also indicate that, for some aspects of care, on average the private sector provided better quality services. The overall low quality of care in both the formal private and public sector found in this review is worrying, and calls for the governments of low and middle income countries to find and implement effective strategies to improve the quality in both sectors. This is particularly important given the increasing volume of conditions that require relatively sophisticated, long-term ambulatory medical care, such as non-communicable diseases.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000433.
This study is further discussed in a PLoS Medicine Perspective by Jishnu Das
WHO has more information on health service delivery in low- and middle-income countries
WHO has more information on noncommunicable diseases
The World Bank's World Development Report for 2004 addresses health care for poor people
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000433
PMCID: PMC3075233  PMID: 21532746
8.  Mortality in Iraq Associated with the 2003–2011 War and Occupation: Findings from a National Cluster Sample Survey by the University Collaborative Iraq Mortality Study 
PLoS Medicine  2013;10(10):e1001533.
Based on a survey of 2,000 randomly selected households throughout Iraq, Amy Hagopian and colleagues estimate that close to half a million excess deaths are attributable to the recent Iraq war and occupation.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Background
Previous estimates of mortality in Iraq attributable to the 2003 invasion have been heterogeneous and controversial, and none were produced after 2006. The purpose of this research was to estimate direct and indirect deaths attributable to the war in Iraq between 2003 and 2011.
Methods and Findings
We conducted a survey of 2,000 randomly selected households throughout Iraq, using a two-stage cluster sampling method to ensure the sample of households was nationally representative. We asked every household head about births and deaths since 2001, and all household adults about mortality among their siblings. We used secondary data sources to correct for out-migration. From March 1, 2003, to June 30, 2011, the crude death rate in Iraq was 4.55 per 1,000 person-years (95% uncertainty interval 3.74–5.27), more than 0.5 times higher than the death rate during the 26-mo period preceding the war, resulting in approximately 405,000 (95% uncertainty interval 48,000–751,000) excess deaths attributable to the conflict. Among adults, the risk of death rose 0.7 times higher for women and 2.9 times higher for men between the pre-war period (January 1, 2001, to February 28, 2003) and the peak of the war (2005–2006). We estimate that more than 60% of excess deaths were directly attributable to violence, with the rest associated with the collapse of infrastructure and other indirect, but war-related, causes. We used secondary sources to estimate rates of death among emigrants. Those estimates suggest we missed at least 55,000 deaths that would have been reported by households had the households remained behind in Iraq, but which instead had migrated away. Only 24 households refused to participate in the study. An additional five households were not interviewed because of hostile or threatening behavior, for a 98.55% response rate. The reliance on outdated census data and the long recall period required of participants are limitations of our study.
Conclusions
Beyond expected rates, most mortality increases in Iraq can be attributed to direct violence, but about a third are attributable to indirect causes (such as from failures of health, sanitation, transportation, communication, and other systems). Approximately a half million deaths in Iraq could be attributable to the war.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
War is a major public health problem. Its health effects include violent deaths among soldiers and civilians as well as indirect increases in mortality and morbidity caused by conflict. Unlike those of other causes of death and disability, however, the consequences of war on population health are rarely studied scientifically. In conflict situations, deaths and diseases are not reliably measured and recorded, and estimating the proportion caused, directly or indirectly, by a war or conflict is challenging. Population-based mortality survey methods—asking representative survivors about deaths they know about—were developed by public health researchers to estimate death rates. By comparing death rate estimates for periods before and during a conflict, researchers can derive the number of excess deaths that are attributable to the conflict.
Why Was This Study Done?
A number of earlier studies have estimated the death toll in Iraq since the beginning of the war in March 2003. The previous studies covered different periods from 2003 to 2006 and derived different rates of overall deaths and excess deaths attributable to the war and conflict. All of them have been controversial, and their methodologies have been criticized. For this study, based on a population-based mortality survey, the researchers modified and improved their methodology in response to critiques of earlier surveys. The study covers the period from the beginning of the war in March 2003 until June 2011, including a period of high violence from 2006 to 2008. It provides population-based estimates for excess deaths in the years after 2006 and covers most of the period of the war and subsequent occupation.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
Interviewers trained by the researchers conducted the survey between May 2011 and July 2011 and collected data from 2,000 randomly selected households in 100 geographical clusters, distributed across Iraq's 18 governorates. The interviewers asked the head of each household about deaths among household members from 2001 to the time of the interview, including a pre-war period from January 2001 to March 2003 and the period of the war and occupation. They also asked all adults in the household about deaths among their siblings during the same period. From the first set of data, the researchers calculated the crude death rates (i.e., the number of deaths during a year per 1,000 individuals) before and during the war. They found the wartime crude death rate in Iraq to be 4.55 per 1,000, more than 50% higher than the death rate of 2.89 during the two-year period preceding the war. By multiplying those rates by the annual Iraq population, the authors estimate the total excess Iraqi deaths attributable to the war through mid-2011 to be about 405,000. The researchers also estimated that an additional 56,000 deaths were not counted due to migration. Including this number, their final estimate is that approximately half a million people died in Iraq as a result of the war and subsequent occupation from March 2003 to June 2011.
The risk of death at the peak of the conflict in 2006 almost tripled for men and rose by 70% for women. Respondents attributed 20% of household deaths to war-related violence. Violent deaths were attributed primarily to coalition forces (35%) and militia (32%). The majority (63%) of violent deaths were from gunshots. Twelve percent were attributed to car bombs. Based on the responses from adults in the surveyed households who reported on the alive-or-dead status of their siblings, the researchers estimated the total number of deaths among adults aged 15–60 years, from March 2003 to June 2011, to be approximately 376,000; 184,000 of these deaths were attributed to the conflict, and of those, the authors estimate that 132,000 were caused directly by war-related violence.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings provide the most up-to-date estimates of the death toll of the Iraq war and subsequent conflict. However, given the difficult circumstances, the estimates are associated with substantial uncertainties. The researchers extrapolated from a small representative sample of households to estimate Iraq's national death toll. In addition, respondents were asked to recall events that occurred up to ten years prior, which can lead to inaccuracies. The researchers also had to rely on outdated census data (the last complete population census in Iraq dates back to 1987) for their overall population figures. Thus, to accompany their estimate of 460,000 excess deaths from March 2003 to mid-2011, the authors used statistical methods to determine the likely range of the true estimate. Based on the statistical methods, the researchers are 95% confident that the true number of excess deaths lies between 48,000 and 751,000—a large range. More than two years past the end of the period covered in this study, the conflict in Iraq is far from over and continues to cost lives at alarming rates. As discussed in an accompanying Perspective by Salman Rawaf, violence and lawlessness continue to the present day. In addition, post-war Iraq has limited capacity to re-establish and maintain its battered public health and safety infrastructure.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001533
This study is further discussed in a PLOS Medicine Perspective by Salman Rawaf.
The Geneva Declaration on Armed Violence and Development website provides information on the global burden of armed violence.
The International Committee of the Red Cross provides information about war and international humanitarian law (in several languages).
Medact, a global health charity, has information on health and conflict.
Columbia University has a program on forced migration and health.
Johns Hopkins University runs the Center for Refugee and Disaster Response.
University of Washington's Health Alliance International website also has information about war and conflict.
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001533
PMCID: PMC3797136  PMID: 24143140
9.  Women’s views and experiences of antenatal care in Iraq: a Q methodology study 
Background
Understanding women’s experiences and perspectives of antenatal care services is particularly critical for enhancing effectiveness of services delivery and addressing women’s needs and expectations. As part of a comprehensive assessment of the maternity care services in Iraq, this study aimed to explore the views and experiences of antenatal care in a sample of women.
Methods
This explorative study was conducted in Erbil governorate, Iraq. Data were collected using Q methodology, a technique for eliciting subjective views and identifying shared patterns among individuals. A sample of 38 women of different educational and socioeconomic statuses were invited to sort a set of 39 statements reflecting different aspects of the available antenatal care services and issues related to their last pregnancies into a distribution on a scale of nine from “disagree most” to “agree most”. By-person factor analysis was used to derive latent views through centroid factor extraction and varimax rotation of factors.
Results
Analysis of the participants’ Q sorts resulted in identifying four distinct views and experiences of pregnancy and antenatal care services: (i) public maternity services second best: preference for, and ability to afford, private care, (ii) dissatisfaction with public maternity services: poor information sharing and lack of health promotion, (iii) satisfaction with public maternity service but information gaps perceived and (iv) public maternity services second best: preference for private care but unaffordable. The typical characterizations that were associated with each view were highlighted.
Conclusions
This study revealed different patterns of views and experiences of women of pregnancy and antenatal care services and recognized the particular issues related to each pattern. Different patterns and types of problems and concerns related mainly to inadequate provision of information and poor interpersonal communication, poor utilization of public services and a general preference to use private services were identified in the different groups of women.
doi:10.1186/1471-2393-14-43
PMCID: PMC3902000  PMID: 24450437
10.  Configuring Balanced Scorecards for Measuring Health System Performance: Evidence from 5 Years' Evaluation in Afghanistan 
PLoS Medicine  2011;8(7):e1001066.
Anbrasi Edward and colleagues report the results of a balanced scorecard performance system used to examine 29 key performance indicators over a 5-year period in Afghanistan, between 2004 and 2008.
Background
In 2004, Afghanistan pioneered a balanced scorecard (BSC) performance system to manage the delivery of primary health care services. This study examines the trends of 29 key performance indicators over a 5-year period between 2004 and 2008.
Methods and Findings
Independent evaluations of performance in six domains were conducted annually through 5,500 patient observations and exit interviews and 1,500 provider interviews in >600 facilities selected by stratified random sampling in each province. Generalized estimating equation (GEE) models were used to assess trends in BSC parameters. There was a progressive improvement in the national median scores scaled from 0–100 between 2004 and 2008 in all six domains: patient and community satisfaction of services (65.3–84.5, p<0.0001); provider satisfaction (65.4–79.2, p<0.01); capacity for service provision (47.4–76.4, p<0.0001); quality of services (40.5–67.4, p<0.0001); and overall vision for pro-poor and pro-female health services (52.0–52.6). The financial domain also showed improvement until 2007 (84.4–95.7, p<0.01), after which user fees were eliminated. By 2008, all provinces achieved the upper benchmark of national median set in 2004.
Conclusions
The BSC has been successfully employed to assess and improve health service capacity and service delivery using performance benchmarking during the 5-year period. However, scorecard reconfigurations are needed to integrate effectiveness and efficiency measures and accommodate changes in health systems policy and strategy architecture to ensure its continued relevance and effectiveness as a comprehensive health system performance measure. The process of BSC design and implementation can serve as a valuable prototype for health policy planners managing performance in similar health care contexts.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Traditionally, the performance of a health system (the complete network of health care agencies, facilities, and providers in a defined geographical region) has been measured in terms of health outcomes: how many people have been treated, how many got better, and how many died. But, nowadays, with increased demand for improved governance and accountability, policy makers are seeking comprehensive performance measures that show in detail how innovations designed to strengthen health systems are affecting service delivery and health outcomes. One such performance measure is the “balanced scorecard,” an integrated management and measurement tool that enables organizations to clarify their vision and strategy and translate them into action. The balanced scorecard—essentially a list of key performance indicators and performance benchmarks in several domains—was originally developed for industry but is now becoming a popular strategic management tool in the health sector. For example, balanced scorecards have been successfully integrated into the Dutch and Italian public health care systems.
Why Was This Study Done?
Little is known about the use of balanced scorecards in the national public health care systems of developing countries but the introduction of performance management into health system reform in fragile states in particular (developing countries where the state fails to perform the fundamental functions necessary to meet its citizens' basic needs and expectations) could help to promote governance and leadership, and facilitate essential policy changes. One fragile state that has introduced the balanced scorecard system for public health care management is Afghanistan, which emerged from decades of conflict in 2002 with some of the world's worst health indicators. To deal with an extremely high burden of disease, the Ministry of Public Health (MOPH) designed a Basic Package of Health Services (BPHS), which is delivered by nongovernmental organizations and MOPH agencies. In 2004, the MOPH introduced the National Health Service Performance Assessment (NHSPA), an annual country-wide assessment of service provision and patient satisfaction and pioneered a balanced scorecard, which uses data collected in the NHSPA, to manage the delivery of primary health care services. In this study, the researchers examine the trends between 2004 and 2008 of the 29 key performance indicators in six domains included in this balanced scorecard, and consider the potential and limitations of the scorecard as a management tool to measure and improve health service delivery in Afghanistan and other similar countries.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
Each year of the study, a random sample of 25 facilities (district hospitals and comprehensive and basic health centers) in 28 of Afghanistan's 34 provinces was chosen (one province did not have functional facilities in 2004 and the other five missing provinces were inaccessible because of ongoing conflicts). NHSPA surveyors collected approximately 5,000 patient observations, 5,000 exit interviews with patients or their caregivers, and 1,500 health provider interviews by observing consultations involving five children under 5 years old and five patients over 5 years old in each facility. The researchers then used this information to evaluate the key performance indicators in the balanced scorecard and a statistical method called generalized estimating equation modeling to assess trends in these indicators. They report that there was a progressive improvement in national average scores in all six domains (patients and community satisfaction with services, provider satisfaction, capacity for service provision, quality of services, overall vision for pro-poor and pro-female health services, and financial systems) between 2004 and 2008.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that the balanced scorecard was successfully used to improve health system capacity and service delivery through performance benchmarking over the 5-year study period. Importantly, the use of the balanced scorecard helped to show the effects of investments, facilitate policy change, and create a more evidence-based decision-making culture in Afghanistan's primary health care system. However, the researchers warn that the continuing success of the balanced scorecard in Afghanistan will depend on its ability to accommodate changes in health systems policy. Furthermore, reconfigurations of the scorecard are needed to include measures of the overall effectiveness and efficiency of the health system such as mortality rates. More generally, the researchers conclude that the balanced scorecard offers a promising measure of health system performance that could be used to examine the effectiveness of health care strategies and innovations in other fragile and developing countries.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001066.
A 2010 article entitled An Afghan Success Story: The Balanced Scorecard and Improved Health Services in The Globe, a newsletter produced by the Department of International Health at the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, provides a detailed description of the balanced scorecard used in this study
Wikipedia has a page on health systems and on balanced scorecards (note that Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit; available in several languages)
The World Health Organization country profile of Afghanistan provides information on the country's health system and burden of disease (in several languages)
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001066
PMCID: PMC3144209  PMID: 21814499
11.  A qualitative assessment of faculty perspectives of small group teaching experience in Iraq 
BMC Medical Education  2015;15:19.
Background
Although medical colleges in Iraq started recently to increasingly use small group teaching approach, there is limited research on the challenges, opportunities and needs of small group teaching in Iraq particularly in Kurdistan Region. Therefore, this study was aimed to assess the small group teaching experience in the 4th and 5th year of study in Hawler College of Medicine with a focus on characterizing the impressions of faculty members about how small group teaching is proceeding in the college.
Methods
A qualitative study based on semi-structured interviews with 20 purposively selected faculty members was conducted. An interview guide was used for data collection that was around different issues related to small group teaching in medical education including planning, preparation, positive aspects, problems facing its implementation, factors related to it and recommendations for improvement. Qualitative data analysis comprised identifying themes that emerged from the review of transcribed interviews.
Results
Participants reported some positive experience and a number of positive outcomes related to this experience including better controlling the class, enhancing students’ understanding of the subject, increasing interaction in the class, increasing the students’ confidence, enhancing more contact between teachers and students, improving the presentation skills of the students and improving the teacher performance. The participants emphasized poor preparation and planning for application of this system and highlighted a number of problems and challenges facing this experience particularly in terms of poor infrastructure and teaching facilities, poor orientation of students and teachers, inadequate course time for some subjects and shortage of faculty members in a number of departments. The main suggestions to improve this experience included improving the infrastructure and teaching facilities, using more interactive teaching methods and better organization and management of the system.
Conclusions
Despite what the faculty perceived as the college’s failure to provide physical settings or training for small group learning to the faculty and the students, the faculty members were able to articulate positive experiences and outcomes associated with their college’s efforts to introduce teaching in smaller group sessions.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/s12909-015-0304-7) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
doi:10.1186/s12909-015-0304-7
PMCID: PMC4349223  PMID: 25888892
12.  Uncovering Treatment Burden as a Key Concept for Stroke Care: A Systematic Review of Qualitative Research 
PLoS Medicine  2013;10(6):e1001473.
In a systematic review of qualitative research, Katie Gallacher and colleagues examine the evidence related to treatment burden after stroke from the patient perspective.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Background
Patients with chronic disease may experience complicated management plans requiring significant personal investment. This has been termed ‘treatment burden’ and has been associated with unfavourable outcomes. The aim of this systematic review is to examine the qualitative literature on treatment burden in stroke from the patient perspective.
Methods and Findings
The search strategy centred on: stroke, treatment burden, patient experience, and qualitative methods. We searched: Scopus, CINAHL, Embase, Medline, and PsycINFO. We tracked references, footnotes, and citations. Restrictions included: English language, date of publication January 2000 until February 2013. Two reviewers independently carried out the following: paper screening, data extraction, and data analysis. Data were analysed using framework synthesis, as informed by Normalization Process Theory. Sixty-nine papers were included. Treatment burden includes: (1) making sense of stroke management and planning care, (2) interacting with others, (3) enacting management strategies, and (4) reflecting on management. Health care is fragmented, with poor communication between patient and health care providers. Patients report inadequate information provision. Inpatient care is unsatisfactory, with a perceived lack of empathy from professionals and a shortage of stimulating activities on the ward. Discharge services are poorly coordinated, and accessing health and social care in the community is difficult. The study has potential limitations because it was restricted to studies published in English only and data from low-income countries were scarce.
Conclusions
Stroke management is extremely demanding for patients, and treatment burden is influenced by micro and macro organisation of health services. Knowledge deficits mean patients are ill equipped to organise their care and develop coping strategies, making adherence less likely. There is a need to transform the approach to care provision so that services are configured to prioritise patient needs rather than those of health care systems.
Systematic Review Registration
International Prospective Register of Systematic Reviews CRD42011001123
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Every year, 15 million people have a stroke. About 5 million of these people die within a few days, and another 5 million are left disabled. Stroke occurs when the blood supply of the brain is suddenly interrupted by a blood vessel in the brain being blocked by a blood clot (ischemic stroke) or bursting (hemorrhagic stroke). Deprived of the oxygen normally carried to them by the blood, the brain cells near the blockage die. The symptoms of stroke depend on which part of the brain is damaged but include sudden weakness or paralysis along one side of the body, vision loss in one or both eyes, and confusion or trouble speaking or understanding speech. Anyone experiencing these symptoms should seek immediate medical attention because prompt treatment can limit the damage to the brain. In the longer term, post-stroke rehabilitation can help individuals overcome the physical disabilities caused by stroke, and drugs that thin the blood, reduce blood pressure and reduce cholesterol (major risk factors for stroke) alongside behavioral counseling can reduce the risk of a second stroke.
Why Was This Study Done?
Treatment for, and rehabilitation from, stroke is a lengthy process that requires considerable personal investment from the patient. The term “treatment burden” describes the self-care practices that patients with stroke and other chronic diseases must perform to follow the complicated management strategies that have been developed for these conditions. Unfortunately, treatment burden can overwhelm patients. They may be unable to cope with the multiple demands placed on them by health-care providers and systems for their self-care, a situation that leads to poor adherence to therapies and poor outcomes. For example, patients may find it hard to complete all the exercises designed to help them regain full movement of their limbs after a stroke. Treatment burden has been poorly examined in relation to stroke. Here, the researchers identify and describe the treatment burden in stroke by undertaking a systematic review (a study that uses predefined criteria to identify all the literature on a given topic) of qualitative studies on the patient experience of stroke management. Qualitative studies collect non-quantitative data so, for example, a qualitative study on stroke treatment might ask people how the treatment made them feel whereas a quantitative study might compare clinical outcomes between those receiving and not receiving the treatment.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers identified 69 qualitative studies dealing with the experiences of stroke management of adult patients and analyzed the data in these papers using framework synthesis—an approach that divides data into thematic categories. Specifically, the researchers used a coding framework informed by normalization process theory, a sociological theory of the implementation, embedding and integration of tasks and practices; embedding is the process of making tasks and practices a routine part of everyday life and integration refers to sustaining these embedded practices. The researchers identified four main areas of treatment burden for stroke: making sense of stroke management and planning care; interacting with others, including health care professionals, family and other patients with stroke; enacting management strategies (including enduring institutional admissions, managing stroke in the community, reintegrating into society and adjusting to life after stroke); and reflecting on management to make decisions about self-care. Moreover, they identified problems in all these areas, including inadequate provision of information, poor communication with health-care providers, and unsatisfactory inpatient care.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings show that stroke management is extremely demanding for patients and is influenced by both the micro and macro organization of health services. At the micro organizational level, fragmented care and poor communication between patients and clinicians and between health-care providers can mean patients are ill equipped to organize their care and develop coping strategies, which makes adherence to management strategies less likely. At the macro organizational level, it can be hard for patients to obtain the practical and financial help they need to manage their stroke in the community. Overall, these findings suggest that care provision for stroke needs to be transformed so that the needs of patients rather than the needs of health-care systems are prioritized. Further work is required, however, to understand how the patient experience of treatment burden is affected by the clinical characteristics of stroke, by disability level, and by other co-existing diseases. By undertaking such work, it should be possible to generate a patient-reported outcome measure of treatment burden that, if used by policy makers and health-care providers, has the potential to improve the quality of stroke care.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001473.
The US National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke provides information about all aspects of stroke (in English and Spanish); its Know Stroke site provides educational materials about stroke prevention, treatment, and rehabilitation including personal stories (in English and Spanish); the US National Institutes of Health SeniorHealth website has additional information about stroke
The Internet Stroke Center provides detailed information about stroke for patients, families, and health professionals (in English and Spanish)
The UK National Health Service Choices website also provides information about stroke for patients and their families, including personal stories
MedlinePlus has links to additional resources about stroke (in English and Spanish)
The UK not-for-profit website Healthtalkonline provides personal stories about stroke
Wikipedia provides information on the burden of treatment and on the normalization process theory (note: Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit; available in several languages)
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001473
PMCID: PMC3692487  PMID: 23824703
13.  Perceptions and utilization of primary health care services in Iraq: findings from a national household survey 
Background
After many years of sanctions and conflict, Iraq is rebuilding its health system, with a strong emphasis on the traditional hospital-based services. A network exists of public sector hospitals and clinics, as well as private clinics and a few private hospitals. Little data are available about the approximately 1400 Primary Health Care clinics (PHCCs) staffed with doctors. How do Iraqis utilize primary health care services? What are their preferences and perceptions of public primary health care clinics and private primary care services in general? How does household wealth affect choice of services?
Methods
A 1256 household national survey was conducted in the catchment areas of randomly selected PHCCs in Iraq. A cluster of 10 households, beginning with a randomly selected start household, were interviewed in the service areas of seven public sector PHCC facilities in each of 17 of Iraq's 18 governorates. A questionnaire was developed using key informants. Teams of interviewers, including both males and females, were recruited and provided a week of training which included field practice. Teams then gathered data from households in the service areas of randomly selected clinics.
Results
Iraqi participants are generally satisfied with the quality of primary care services available both in the public and private sector. Private clinics are generally the most popular source of primary care, however the PHCCs are utilized more by poorer households. In spite of free services available at PHCCs many households expressed difficulty in affording health care, especially in the purchase of medications. There is no evidence of informal payments to secure health services in the public sector.
Conclusions
There is widespread satisfaction reported with primary health care services, and levels did not differ appreciably between public and private sectors. The public sector PHCCs are preferentially used by poorer populations where they are important providers. PHCC services are indeed free, with little evidence of informal payments to providers.
doi:10.1186/1472-698X-11-15
PMCID: PMC3266634  PMID: 22176866
14.  Health system challenges to integration of mental health delivery in primary care in Kenya- perspectives of primary care health workers 
Background
Health system weaknesses in Africa are broadly well known, constraining progress on reducing the burden of both communicable and non-communicable disease (Afr Health Monitor, Special issue, 2011, 14-24), and the key challenges in leadership, governance, health workforce, medical products, vaccines and technologies, information, finance and service delivery have been well described (Int Arch Med, 2008, 1:27). This paper uses focus group methodology to explore health worker perspectives on the challenges posed to integration of mental health into primary care by generic health system weakness.
Methods
Two ninety minute focus groups were conducted in Nyanza province, a poor agricultural region of Kenya, with 20 health workers drawn from a randomised controlled trial to evaluate the impact of a mental health training programme for primary care, 10 from the intervention group clinics where staff had received the training programme, and 10 health workers from the control group where staff had not received the training).
Results
These focus group discussions suggested that there are a number of generic health system weaknesses in Kenya which impact on the ability of health workers to care for clients with mental health problems and to implement new skills acquired during a mental health continuing professional development training programmes. These weaknesses include the medicine supply, health management information system, district level supervision to primary care clinics, the lack of attention to mental health in the national health sector targets, and especially its absence in district level targets, which results in the exclusion of mental health from such district level supervision as exists, and the lack of awareness in the district management team about mental health. The lack of mental health coverage included in HIV training courses experienced by the health workers was also striking, as was the intensive focus during district supervision on HIV to the detriment of other health issues.
Conclusion
Generic health system weaknesses in Kenya impact on efforts for horizontal integration of mental health into routine primary care practice, and greatly frustrate health worker efforts.
Improvement of medicine supplies, information systems, explicit inclusion of mental health in district level targets, management and supervision to primary care are likely to greatly improve primary care health worker effectiveness, and enable training programmes to be followed by better use in the field of newly acquired skills. A major lever for horizontal integration of mental health into the health system would be the inclusion of mental health in the national health sector reform strategy at community, primary care and district levels rather than just at the higher provincial and national levels, so that supportive supervision from the district level to primary care would become routine practice rather than very scarce activity.
Trial registration
Trial registration ISRCTN 53515024
doi:10.1186/1472-6963-13-368
PMCID: PMC3852631  PMID: 24079756
Health system challenges; Health sector reform; Mental health; Primary care; Kenya
15.  Doctors as the governing body of the Kurdish health system: exploring upward and downward accountability among physicians and its influence on the adoption of coping behaviours 
Background
The health system of Iraqi Kurdistan is severely understudied, particularly with regard to patient-physician interactions and their effects. We examine patterns of behaviour among physicians in Kurdistan, the justifications given and possible enabling factors, with a view to understanding accountability both from above and below.
Methods
An ethnographic study was conducted in the Sulaimaniyah Teaching Hospital in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. Data was collected through negotiated interactive observation, and interviews were conducted with 10 participants, 5 physicians and 5 patients. Data collected was analysed using thematic analysis.
Results
Common patterns of practice among physicians in Kurdistan include displays of discontent, reluctance to negotiate decisions with patients and unfavourable behaviours including dual practice and predatory behaviours towards patients. These behaviours are justified as a mechanism of dealing with negative aspects of their work, including overcrowding, low salaries and social pressure to live up to socially conceived ideas of a physician’s identity.
Conclusions
Michael Lipsky’s theory of street-level bureaucrats and their coping behaviours is a useful way to analyse the Kurdish health system. Physician behaviours are enabled by a number of factors that work to enhance physician discretion through lowering of upward and downward accountability. Physicians are under very little pressure to change their behaviour, and as a result, they effectively become the street-level governing body of the Kurdish health system.
doi:10.1186/s12960-015-0039-x
PMCID: PMC4464857  PMID: 26041465
Health system; Kurdistan; Discretion; Street-level bureaucracy; Discontent; Coping strategies
16.  Women’s perspectives of female genital cutting: Q-methodology 
BMC Women's Health  2014;14:11.
Background
Understanding women’s perspectives of female genital cutting is particularly critical for understanding the roots of the problem and enhancing effectiveness of any prevention program. Very limited research has examined how people in Iraqi Kurdistan Region think about this practice. This study aimed to explore the perspectives of women of female genital cutting with the aim of uncovering discrepancies and commonalities between women of different socio-educational groups.
Methods
An explorative study using Q-methodology was conducted with 29 women from different educational and socio-economic statuses in Erbil, the main city of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region. Participants were asked to rank-order a set of 39 statements about different aspects of female genital cutting into a distribution on a scale of nine from “disagree most” to “agree most”. By-person factor analysis was performed with factors or latent viewpoints extracted through centroid method and varimax rotation.
Results
A four-factor solution and one consensus perspective provided the best conceptual fit for the women’s perspectives about female genital cutting. Factor 1, entitled “positive cultural tradition”, centers on recognizing female genital cutting as a positive cultural aspect and an essential part of the Kurdish culture. Factor 2, “active opponents”, positions around actively opposing the practice of female genital cutting and considering the practice a violation of human rights. Factor 3, “role of law”, stresses the importance of developing and enforcing law for combating female genital cutting. Factor 4, “health concerns and passive opposition”, represents the perspectives of recognizing the importance of health concerns resulting from female genital cutting and opposition of the practice but not in an active manner. A consensus perspective, “marital role”, centers primarily on lack of effect of female genital cutting on women’s marital role.
Conclusions
Female genital cutting is still a contentious issue among women in Iraqi Kurdistan Region. By identifying disagreement and consensus among women, four different perspectives on female genital cutting were uncovered with having perspectives at both extremes of accepting the practice and actively opposing it. The study highlighted the typical characterizations that are associated with each perspective.
doi:10.1186/1472-6874-14-11
PMCID: PMC3898223  PMID: 24433509
17.  Treatment Outcomes and Cost-Effectiveness of Shifting Management of Stable ART Patients to Nurses in South Africa: An Observational Cohort 
PLoS Medicine  2011;8(7):e1001055.
Lawrence Long and colleagues report that “down-referring” stable HIV patients from a doctor-managed, hospital-based ART clinic to a nurse-managed primary health facility provides good health outcomes and cost-effective treatment for patients.
Background
To address human resource and infrastructure shortages, resource-constrained countries are being encouraged to shift HIV care to lesser trained care providers and lower level health care facilities. This study evaluated the cost-effectiveness of down-referring stable antiretroviral therapy (ART) patients from a doctor-managed, hospital-based ART clinic to a nurse-managed primary health care facility in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Methods and Findings
Criteria for down-referral were stable ART (≥11 mo), undetectable viral load within the previous 10 mo, CD4>200 cells/mm3, <5% weight loss over the last three visits, and no opportunistic infections. All patients down-referred from the treatment-initiation site to the down-referral site between 1 February 2008 and 1 January 2009 were compared to a matched sample of patients eligible for down-referral but not down-referred. Outcomes were assigned based on vital and health status 12 mo after down-referral eligibility and the average cost per outcome estimated from patient medical record data.
The down-referral site (n = 712) experienced less death and loss to follow up than the treatment-initiation site (n = 2,136) (1.7% versus 6.2%, relative risk = 0.27, 95% CI 0.15–0.49). The average cost per patient-year for those in care and responding at 12 mo was US$492 for down-referred patients and US$551 for patients remaining at the treatment-initiation site (p<0.0001), a savings of 11%. Down-referral was the cost-effective strategy for eligible patients.
Conclusions
Twelve-month outcomes of stable ART patients who are down-referred to a primary health clinic are as good as, or better than, the outcomes of similar patients who are maintained at a hospital-based ART clinic. The cost of treatment with down-referral is lower across all outcomes and would save 11% for patients who remain in care and respond to treatment. These results suggest that this strategy would increase treatment capacity and conserve resources without compromising patient outcomes.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
AIDS has killed more than 25 million people since 1981, and about 33 million people are now infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Because HIV destroys immune system cells, which leaves infected individuals susceptible to other infections, early in the AIDS epidemic, most HIV-infected people died within ten years of infection. Then, in 1996, antiretroviral therapy (ART), which can keep HIV in check for many years, became available. For people living in developed countries, HIV infection became a chronic condition, but people in developing countries were not so lucky—ART was prohibitively expensive and so a diagnosis of HIV infection remained a death sentence in many regions of the world. In 2003, this situation was declared a global health emergency, and governments, international agencies, and funding bodies began to implement plans to increase ART coverage in developing countries. As a result, nowadays, more than a third of people in low- and middle-income countries who need ART are receiving it.
Why Was This Study Done?
Unfortunately, shortages of human resources in developing countries are impeding progress toward universal ART coverage. In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, where two-thirds of all HIV-positive people live, there are too few doctors to supervise all the ART that is required. Various organizations are therefore encouraging a shift of clinical care responsibilities for people receiving ART from doctors to less highly trained, less expensive, and more numerous members of the clinical workforce. Thus, in South Africa, plans are underway to reduce the role of hospital doctors in ART and to increase the role of primary health clinic nurses. One specific strategy involves “down-referring” patients whose HIV infection is under control (“stable ART patients”) from a doctor-managed, hospital-based ART clinic to a nurse-managed primary health care facility. In this observational study, the researchers investigate the effect of this strategy on treatment outcomes and costs by retrospectively analyzing data collected from a cohort (group) of adult patients initially treated by doctors at the Themba Lethu Clinic in Johannesburg and then down-referred to a nearby primary health clinic where nurses supervised their treatment.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
Patients attending the hospital-based ART clinic were invited to transfer to the down-referral site if they had been on ART for at least 11 months and met criteria that indicated that ART was controlling their HIV infection. Each of the 712 stable ART patients who agreed to be down-referred to the primary health clinic was matched to three patients eligible for down-referral but not down-referred (2,136 patients), and clinical outcomes and costs in the patient groups were compared 12 months after down-referral eligibility. At this time point, 1.7% of the down-referred patients had died or had been lost to follow up compared to 6.2% of the patients who continued to receive hospital-based ART. The average cost per patient-year for those in care and responding at 12 months was US$492 for down-referred patients but US$551 for patients remaining at the hospital. Finally, the down-referral site spent US$509 to produce a patient who was in care and responding one year after down-referral on average, whereas the hospital spent US$602 for each responding patient. Thus, the down-referral strategy (nurse-managed care) was more cost-effective than continued hospital treatment (doctor-managed care).
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings indicate that, at least for this pair of study sites, the 12-month outcomes of stable ART patients who were down-referred to a primary health clinic were as good as or better than the outcomes of similar patients who remained at a hospital-based ART clinic. Moreover, the down-referral strategy saved 11% of costs for patients who remained in care and responded to treatment and appeared to be cost-effective, although additional studies are needed to confirm this last finding. Because this is an observational study (that is, patients eligible for down-referral were not randomly assigned to hospital or primary care facility treatment), it is possible that some unknown factor was responsible for the difference in outcomes between the two patient groups. Nevertheless, these results suggest that the down-referral strategy tested in this study could increase ART capacity and conserve resources without compromising patient outcomes in South Africa and possibly in other resource-limited settings.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/journal.pmed.pmed.1001055.
This study is further discussed in a PLoS Medicine Perspective by Ford and Mills
The US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases provides information on HIV infection and AIDS
HIV InSite has comprehensive information on HIV/AIDS
Information is available from Avert, an international AIDS charity, on many aspects of HIV/AIDS, including information on HIV and AIDS in Africa and on universal access to AIDS treatment (in English and Spanish)
The World Health Organization provides information about universal access to AIDS treatment, including its 2010 progress report (in English, French and Spanish)
Right to Care, a non-profit organization that aims to deliver and support quality clinical services in Southern Africa for the prevention, treatment, and management of HIV, provides information on down-referral
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001055
PMCID: PMC3139666  PMID: 21811402
18.  Barriers to Provider-Initiated Testing and Counselling for Children in a High HIV Prevalence Setting: A Mixed Methods Study 
PLoS Medicine  2014;11(5):e1001649.
Rashida Ferrand and colleagues combine quantitative and qualitative methods to investigate HIV prevalence among older children receiving primary care in Harare, Zimbabwe, and reasons why providers did not pursue testing.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Background
There is a substantial burden of HIV infection among older children in sub-Saharan Africa, the majority of whom are diagnosed after presentation with advanced disease. We investigated the provision and uptake of provider-initiated HIV testing and counselling (PITC) among children in primary health care facilities, and explored health care worker (HCW) perspectives on providing HIV testing to children.
Methods and Findings
Children aged 6 to 15 y attending six primary care clinics in Harare, Zimbabwe, were offered PITC, with guardian consent and child assent. The reasons why testing did not occur in eligible children were recorded, and factors associated with HCWs offering and children/guardians refusing HIV testing were investigated using multivariable logistic regression. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with clinic nurses and counsellors to explore these factors. Among 2,831 eligible children, 2,151 (76%) were offered PITC, of whom 1,534 (54.2%) consented to HIV testing. The main reasons HCWs gave for not offering PITC were the perceived unsuitability of the accompanying guardian to provide consent for HIV testing on behalf of the child and lack of availability of staff or HIV testing kits. Children who were asymptomatic, older, or attending with a male or a younger guardian had significantly lower odds of being offered HIV testing. Male guardians were less likely to consent to their child being tested. 82 (5.3%) children tested HIV-positive, with 95% linking to care. Of the 940 guardians who tested with the child, 186 (19.8%) were HIV-positive.
Conclusions
The HIV prevalence among children tested was high, highlighting the need for PITC. For PITC to be successfully implemented, clear legislation about consent and guardianship needs to be developed, and structural issues addressed. HCWs require training on counselling children and guardians, particularly male guardians, who are less likely to engage with health care services. Increased awareness of the risk of HIV infection in asymptomatic older children is needed.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Over 3 million children globally are estimated to be living with HIV (the virus that causes AIDS). While HIV infection is most commonly spread through unprotected sex with an infected person, most HIV infections among children are the result of mother-to-child HIV transmission during pregnancy, delivery, or breastfeeding. Mother-to-child transmission can be prevented by administering antiretroviral therapy to mothers with HIV during pregnancy, delivery, and breast feeding, and to their newborn babies. According to a report by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS published in 2012, 92% of pregnant women with HIV were living in sub-Saharan Africa and just under 60% were receiving antiretroviral therapy. Consequently, sub-Saharan Africa is the region where most children infected with HIV live.
Why Was This Study Done?
If an opportunity to prevent mother-to-child transmission around the time of birth is missed, diagnosis of HIV infection in a child or adolescent is likely to depend on HIV testing in health care facilities. Health care provider–initiated HIV testing and counselling (PITC) for children is important in areas where HIV infection is common because earlier diagnosis allows children to benefit from care that can prevent the development of advanced HIV disease. Even if a child or adolescent appears to be in good health, access to care and antiretroviral therapy provides a health benefit to the individual over the long term. The administration of HIV testing (and counselling) to children relies not only on health care workers (HCWs) offering HIV testing but also on parents or guardians consenting for a child to be tested. However, more than 30% of children in countries with severe HIV epidemics are AIDS orphans, and economic conditions in these countries cause many adults to migrate for work, leaving children under the care of extended families. This study aimed to investigate the reasons for acceptance and rejection of PITC in primary health care settings in Harare, Zimbabwe. By exploring HCW perspectives on providing HIV testing to children and adolescents, the study also sought to gain insight into factors that could be hindering implementation of testing procedures.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers identified all children aged 6 to 15 years old at six primary care clinics in Harare, who were offered HIV testing as part of routine care between 22 January and 31 May 2013. Study fieldworkers collected data on numbers of child attendances, numbers offered testing, numbers who underwent HIV testing, and reasons why HIV testing did not occur. During the study 2,831 children attending the health clinics were eligible for PITC, and just over half (1,534, 54.2%) underwent HIV testing. Eighty-two children tested HIV-positive, and nearly all of them received counselling, medication, and follow-up care. HCWs offered the test to around 75% of those eligible. The most frequent explanation given by HCWs for a diagnostic test not being offered was that the child was accompanied by a guardian not appropriate for providing consent (401 occasions, 59%); Other reasons given were a lack of available counsellors or test kits and counsellors refusing to conduct the test. The likelihood of being offered the test was lower for children not exhibiting symptoms (such as persistent skin problems), older children, or those attending with a male or a younger guardian. In addition, over 100 guardians or parents provided consent but left before the child could be tested.
The researchers also conducted semi-structured interviews with 12 clinic nurses and counsellors (two from each clinic) to explore challenges to implementation of PITC. The researchers recorded the factors associated with testing not taking place, either when offered to eligible children or when HCWs declined to offer the test. The interviewees identified the frequent absence or unavailability of parents or legal guardians as an obstacle, and showed uncertainty or misconceptions around whether testing of the guardian was mandatory (versus recommended) and whether specifically a parent (if one was living) must provide consent. The interviews also revealed HCW concerns about the availability of adequate counselling and child services, and fears that a child might experience maltreatment if he or she tested positive. HCWs also noted long waiting times and test kits being out of stock as practical hindrances to testing.
What Do These Findings Mean?
Prevalence of HIV was high among the children tested, validating the need for PITC in sub-Saharan health care settings. Although 76% of eligible attendees were offered testing, the authors note that this is likely higher than in routine settings because the researchers were actively recording reasons for not offering testing and counselling, which may have encouraged heath care staff to offer PITC more often than usual. The researchers outline strategies that may improve PITC rates and testing acceptance for Zimbabwe and other sub-Saharan settings. These strategies include developing clear laws and guidance concerning guardianship and proxy consent when testing older children for HIV, training HCWs around these policies, strengthening legislation to address discrimination, and increasing public awareness about HIV infection in older children.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001649.
This study is further discussed in a PLOS Medicine Perspective by Davies and Kalk
The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS publishes an annual report on the global AIDS epidemic, which provides information on progress towards eliminating new HIV infections
The World Health Organization has more information on mother-to-child transmission of HIV
The World Health Organization's website also has information about treatment for children living with HIV
Personal stories about living with HIV/AIDS, including stories from young people infected with HIV, are available through Avert, through NAM/aidsmap, and through the charity website Healthtalkonline
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001649
PMCID: PMC4035250  PMID: 24866209
19.  The Influence of Distance and Level of Care on Delivery Place in Rural Zambia: A Study of Linked National Data in a Geographic Information System 
PLoS Medicine  2011;8(1):e1000394.
Using linked national data in a geographic information system system, Sabine Gabrysch and colleagues investigate the effects of distance to care and level of care on women's use of health facilities for delivery in rural Zambia.
Background
Maternal and perinatal mortality could be reduced if all women delivered in settings where skilled attendants could provide emergency obstetric care (EmOC) if complications arise. Research on determinants of skilled attendance at delivery has focussed on household and individual factors, neglecting the influence of the health service environment, in part due to a lack of suitable data. The aim of this study was to quantify the effects of distance to care and level of care on women's use of health facilities for delivery in rural Zambia, and to compare their population impact to that of other important determinants.
Methods and Findings
Using a geographic information system (GIS), we linked national household data from the Zambian Demographic and Health Survey 2007 with national facility data from the Zambian Health Facility Census 2005 and calculated straight-line distances. Health facilities were classified by whether they provided comprehensive EmOC (CEmOC), basic EmOC (BEmOC), or limited or substandard services. Multivariable multilevel logistic regression analyses were performed to investigate the influence of distance to care and level of care on place of delivery (facility or home) for 3,682 rural births, controlling for a wide range of confounders. Only a third of rural Zambian births occurred at a health facility, and half of all births were to mothers living more than 25 km from a facility of BEmOC standard or better. As distance to the closest health facility doubled, the odds of facility delivery decreased by 29% (95% CI, 14%–40%). Independently, each step increase in level of care led to 26% higher odds of facility delivery (95% CI, 7%–48%). The population impact of poor geographic access to EmOC was at least of similar magnitude as that of low maternal education, household poverty, or lack of female autonomy.
Conclusions
Lack of geographic access to emergency obstetric care is a key factor explaining why most rural deliveries in Zambia still occur at home without skilled care. Addressing geographic and quality barriers is crucial to increase service use and to lower maternal and perinatal mortality. Linking datasets using GIS has great potential for future research and can help overcome the neglect of health system factors in research and policy.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Approximately 360,000 women die each year in pregnancy and childbirth, of which more than 200,000 in sub-Saharan Africa, where a woman's lifetime risk of dying during or following pregnancy remains as high as 1 in 31 (compared to 1 in 4,300 in the developed world). The target of Millennium Development Goal 5 is to reduce the maternal mortality ratio by three quarters by 2015. Most maternal and neonatal deaths in low-income countries could be prevented if all women delivered their babies in settings where skilled birth attendants (such as midwives) were available and could provide emergency obstetric care to both mothers and babies in case of complications. Yet every year roughly 50 million women give birth at home without skilled care.
Why was this study done?
The likelihood of a woman giving birth in a health facility under the care of a skilled birth attendant depends on many factors. These include characteristics of the mother and her family, such as education level and household wealth, and aspects of the health service environment—distance to the nearest health facility and the quality of care provided at that facility, for example. However, research to date has typically focused on household and individual factors, neglecting the influence of the health service environment on choice of delivery place, largely because suitable data was not available. In this study in rural Zambia, the researchers aimed to quantify the effects of the health service environment, namely distance to health care and the level of care provided, on pregnant women's use of health facilities for giving birth. To put these factors in context, the researchers compared the impact of distance to quality care on place of delivery to that of other important factors, such as poverty and education.
What did the researchers do and find?
Using a geographic information system (GIS), the researchers linked national household data (from the 2007 Zambia Demographic and Health Survey) with national facility data (from the 2005 Zambian Health Facility Census) and calculated straight-line distances between women's villages and health facilities. Health facilities were classified as providing comprehensive emergency obstetric care, basic emergency obstetric care, or limited or substandard services by using reported capability to perform a certain number of the eight emergency obstetric care signal functions: injectable antibiotics, injectable oxytocics, injectable anticonvulsants, manual removal of placenta, manual removal of retained products, assisted vaginal delivery, cesarean section, and blood transfusion, as well as criteria on staffing, opening hours and referral capacity. The researchers used data from 3,682 rural births and multivariable multilevel logistic regression analyses to investigate whether distance to, and level of care at the closest delivery facility influence place of delivery (health facility or home), keeping other influential factors constant.
The researchers found that only a third of births in rural Zambia occurred at a health facility, and half of all mothers who gave birth lived more than 25 km from a health facility that provided basic emergency obstetric services. As distance to the closest health facility doubled, the odds of a women giving birth in a health facility decreased by 29%. Independently, each step increase in the level of emergency obstetric care provided at the closest delivery facility led to an increased likelihood (26% higher odds) of a woman delivering her baby at a facility. The researchers estimated that the impact of poor geographic access to emergency obstetric services was of similar magnitude as that of low maternal education, household poverty, or lack of female autonomy.
What do these findings mean?
The results of this study suggest that poor geographic access to emergency obstetric care is a key factor in explaining why most women in rural Zambia still deliver their babies at home without skilled care. Therefore, in order to increase the number of women delivering in health facilities and thus reduce maternal and neonatal mortality, it is crucial to address the geographic and quality barriers to delivery service use. Furthermore, the methodology used in this study—linking datasets using GIS— has great potential for future research as it can help explore the influence of health system factors also for other health problems.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000394.
Information about emergency obstetric care is provided by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)
Various topics on maternal health are presented by WHO, WHO Regional Office Africa, by UNPFA, and UNICEF
WHO offers detailed information about MDG5
Family Care International offers more information about maternal and neonatal health
The Averting Maternal Death and Disability program (AMDD) provides information on needs assessments of emergency obstetric and newborn care
Countdown to 2015 tracks progress in maternal, newborn, and child survival
WHO provides free online viewing of BBC Fight for Life videos describing delivery experiences in different countries
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000394
PMCID: PMC3026699  PMID: 21283606
20.  Access to the US Department of Veterans Affairs health system: self-reported barriers to care among returnees of Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom 
Background
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) implemented the Polytrauma System of Care to meet the health care needs of military and veterans with multiple injuries returning from combat operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. Studies are needed to systematically assess barriers to use of comprehensive and exclusive VA healthcare services from the perspective of veterans with polytrauma and with other complex health outcomes following their service in Afghanistan and Iraq. These perspectives can inform policy with regard to the optimal delivery of care to returning veterans.
Methods
We studied combat veterans (n = 359) from two polytrauma rehabilitation centers using structured clinical interviews and qualitative open-ended questions, augmented with data collected from electronic health records. Our outcomes included several measures of exclusive utilization of VA care with our primary exposure as reported access barriers to care.
Results
Nearly two thirds of the veterans reported one or more barriers to their exclusive use of VA healthcare services. These barriers predicted differences in exclusive use of VA healthcare services. Experiencing any barriers doubled the returnees’ odds of not using VA exclusively, the geographic distance to VA barrier resulted in a 7 fold increase in the returnees odds of not using VA, and reporting a wait time barrier doubled the returnee’s odds of not using VA. There were no striking differences in access barriers for veterans with polytrauma compared to other returning veterans, suggesting the barriers may be uniform barriers that predict differences in using the VA exclusively for health care.
Conclusions
This study provides an initial description of utilization of VA polytrauma rehabilitation and other medical care for veteran returnees from all military services who were involved in combat operations in Afghanistan or Iraq. Our findings indicate that these veterans reported important stigmatization and barriers to receiving services exclusively from the VA, including mutable health delivery system factors.
doi:10.1186/1472-6963-13-498
PMCID: PMC3893594  PMID: 24289747
Access to care; Health/psychiatric services; Veterans/psychology; VA health system
21.  Effect of Removing Direct Payment for Health Care on Utilisation and Health Outcomes in Ghanaian Children: A Randomised Controlled Trial 
PLoS Medicine  2009;6(1):e1000007.
Background
Delays in accessing care for malaria and other diseases can lead to disease progression, and user fees are a known barrier to accessing health care. Governments are introducing free health care to improve health outcomes. Free health care affects treatment seeking, and it is therefore assumed to lead to improved health outcomes, but there is no direct trial evidence of the impact of removing out-of-pocket payments on health outcomes in developing countries. This trial was designed to test the impact of free health care on health outcomes directly.
Methods and Findings
2,194 households containing 2,592 Ghanaian children under 5 y old were randomised into a prepayment scheme allowing free primary care including drugs, or to a control group whose families paid user fees for health care (normal practice); 165 children whose families had previously paid to enrol in the prepayment scheme formed an observational arm. The primary outcome was moderate anaemia (haemoglobin [Hb] < 8 g/dl); major secondary outcomes were health care utilisation, severe anaemia, and mortality. At baseline the randomised groups were similar. Introducing free primary health care altered the health care seeking behaviour of households; those randomised to the intervention arm used formal health care more and nonformal care less than the control group. Introducing free primary health care did not lead to any measurable difference in any health outcome. The primary outcome of moderate anaemia was detected in 37 (3.1%) children in the control and 36 children (3.2%) in the intervention arm (adjusted odds ratio 1.05, 95% confidence interval 0.66–1.67). There were four deaths in the control and five in the intervention group. Mean Hb concentration, severe anaemia, parasite prevalence, and anthropometric measurements were similar in each group. Families who previously self-enrolled in the prepayment scheme were significantly less poor, had better health measures, and used services more frequently than those in the randomised group.
Conclusions
In the study setting, removing out-of-pocket payments for health care had an impact on health care-seeking behaviour but not on the health outcomes measured.
Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov (#NCT00146692).
Evelyn Ansah and colleagues report on whether removing user fees has an impact on health care-seeking behavior and health outcomes in households with children in Ghana.
Editors' Summary
Background.
Every year, about 10 million children worldwide die before their fifth birthday. About half these deaths occur in developing countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Here, 166 children out of every 1,000 die before they are five. A handful of preventable diseases—acute respiratory infections, diarrhea, malaria, measles, and HIV/AIDS—are responsible for most of these deaths. For all these diseases, delays in accessing medical care contribute to the high death rate. In the case of malaria, for example, children are rarely taken to a clinic or hospital (formal health care) when they first develop symptoms, which include fever, chills, and anemia (lack of red blood cells). Instead, they are taken to traditional healers or given home remedies (informal health care). When they are finally taken to a clinic, it is often too late to save their lives. Many factors contribute to this delay in seeking formal health care. Sometimes, health care simply isn't available. In other instances, parents may worry about the quality of the service provided or may not seek formal health care because of their sociocultural beliefs. Finally, many parents cannot afford the travel costs and loss of earnings involved in taking their child to a clinic or the cost of the treatment itself.
Why Was This Study Done?
The financial cost of seeking formal health care is often the major barrier to accessing health care in poor countries. Consequently, the governments of several developing countries have introduced free health care in an effort to improve their nation's health. Such initiatives have increased the use of formal health care in several African countries; the introduction of user fees in Ghana in the early 1980s had the opposite effect. It is generally assumed that an increase in formal health care utilization improves health—but is this true? In this study, the researchers investigate the effect of removing direct payment for health care on health service utilization and health outcomes in Ghanaian children in a randomized controlled trial (a trial in which participants are randomly assigned to an “intervention” group or “control” group and various predefined outcomes are measured).
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers enrolled nearly 2,600 children under the age of 5 y living in a poor region of Ghana. Half were assigned to the group in which a prepayment scheme (paid for by the trial) provided free primary and basic secondary health care—this was the intervention arm. The rest were assigned to the control group in which families paid for health care. The trial's main outcome was the percentage of children with moderate anemia at the end of the malaria transmission season, an indicator of the effect of the intervention on malaria-related illness. Other outcomes included health care utilization (calculated from household diaries), severe anemia, and death. The researchers report that the children in the intervention arm attended formal health care facilities slightly more often and informal health care providers slightly less often than those in the control arm. About 3% of the children in both groups had moderate anemia at the end of the malaria transmission season. In addition, similar numbers of deaths, cases of severe anemia, fever episodes, and known infections with the malaria parasite were recorded in both groups of children.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings show that, in this setting, the removal of out-of-pocket payments for health care changed health care-seeking behavior but not health outcomes in children. This lack of a measured effect does not necessarily mean that the provision of free health care has no effect on children's health—it could be that the increase in health care utilization in the intervention arm compared to the control arm was too modest to produce a clear effect on health. Alternatively, in Ghana, the indirect costs of seeking health care may be more important than the direct cost of paying for treatment. Although the findings of this trial may not be generalizable to other countries, they nevertheless raise the possibility that providing free health care might not be the most cost-effective way of improving health in all developing countries. Importantly, they also suggest that changes in health care utilization should not be used in future trials as a proxy measure of improvements in health.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000007.
This research article is further discussed in a PLoS Medicine Perspective by Valéry Ridde and Slim Haddad
The World Health Organization provides information on child health and on global efforts to reduce child mortality, Millennium Development Goal 4; it also provides information about health in Ghana
The United Nations Web site provides further information on all the Millennium Development Goals, which were agreed to by the nations of the world in 2000 with the aim of ending extreme poverty by 2015 (in several languages)
The UK Department for International Development also provides information on the progress that is being made toward reducing child mortality
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000007
PMCID: PMC2613422  PMID: 19127975
22.  Evidence for integrating eye health into primary health care in Africa: a health systems strengthening approach 
Background
The impact of unmet eye care needs in sub-Saharan Africa is compounded by barriers to accessing eye care, limited engagement with communities, a shortage of appropriately skilled health personnel, and inadequate support from health systems. The renewed focus on primary health care has led to support for greater integration of eye health into national health systems. The aim of this paper is to demonstrate available evidence of integration of eye health into primary health care in sub-Saharan Africa from a health systems strengthening perspective.
Methods
A scoping review method was used to gather and assess information from published literature, reviews, WHO policy documents and examples of eye and health care interventions in sub-Saharan Africa. Findings were compiled using a health systems strengthening framework.
Results
Limited information is available about eye health from a health systems strengthening approach. Particular components of the health systems framework lacking evidence are service delivery, equipment and supplies, financing, leadership and governance. There is some information to support interventions to strengthen human resources at all levels, partnerships and community participation; but little evidence showing their successful application to improve quality of care and access to comprehensive eye health services at the primary health level, and referral to other levels for specialist eye care.
Conclusion
Evidence of integration of eye health into primary health care is currently weak, particularly when applying a health systems framework. A realignment of eye health in the primary health care agenda will require context specific planning and a holistic approach, with careful attention to each of the health system components and to the public health system as a whole. Documentation and evaluation of existing projects are required, as are pilot projects of systematic approaches to interventions and application of best practices. Multi-national research may provide guidance about how to scale up eye health interventions that are integrated into primary health systems.
doi:10.1186/1472-6963-13-102
PMCID: PMC3616885  PMID: 23506686
Quality care; Sub-Saharan Africa; Health systems strengthening; Integration; Primary health care; Public health; Eye health; Vision impairment and blindness; Primary eye care; Developing countries
23.  The european primary care monitor: structure, process and outcome indicators 
BMC Family Practice  2010;11:81.
Background
Scientific research has provided evidence on benefits of well developed primary care systems. The relevance of some of this research for the European situation is limited.
There is currently a lack of up to date comprehensive and comparable information on variation in development of primary care, and a lack of knowledge of structures and strategies conducive to strengthening primary care in Europe. The EC funded project Primary Health Care Activity Monitor for Europe (PHAMEU) aims to fill this gap by developing a Primary Care Monitoring System (PC Monitor) for application in 31 European countries. This article describes the development of the indicators of the PC Monitor, which will make it possible to create an alternative model for holistic analyses of primary care.
Methods
A systematic review of the primary care literature published between 2003 and July 2008 was carried out. This resulted in an overview of: (1) the dimensions of primary care and their relevance to outcomes at (primary) health system level; (2) essential features per dimension; (3) applied indicators to measure the features of primary care dimensions. The indicators were evaluated by the project team against criteria of relevance, precision, flexibility, and discriminating power. The resulting indicator set was evaluated on its suitability for Europe-wide comparison of primary care systems by a panel of primary care experts from various European countries (representing a variety of primary care systems).
Results
The developed PC Monitor approaches primary care in Europe as a multidimensional concept. It describes the key dimensions of primary care systems at three levels: structure, process, and outcome level. On structure level, it includes indicators for governance, economic conditions, and workforce development. On process level, indicators describe access, comprehensiveness, continuity, and coordination of primary care services. On outcome level, indicators reflect the quality, and efficiency of primary care.
Conclusions
A standardized instrument for describing and comparing primary care systems has been developed based on scientific evidence and consensus among an international panel of experts, which will be tested to all configurations of primary care in Europe, intended for producing comparable information. Widespread use of the instrument has the potential to improve the understanding of primary care delivery in different national contexts and thus to create opportunities for better decision making.
doi:10.1186/1471-2296-11-81
PMCID: PMC2975652  PMID: 20979612
24.  Packaging Health Services When Resources Are Limited: The Example of a Cervical Cancer Screening Visit 
PLoS Medicine  2006;3(11):e434.
Background
Increasing evidence supporting the value of screening women for cervical cancer once in their lifetime, coupled with mounting interest in scaling up successful screening demonstration projects, present challenges to public health decision makers seeking to take full advantage of the single-visit opportunity to provide additional services. We present an analytic framework for packaging multiple interventions during a single point of contact, explicitly taking into account a budget and scarce human resources, constraints acknowledged as significant obstacles for provision of health services in poor countries.
Methods and Findings
We developed a binary integer programming (IP) model capable of identifying an optimal package of health services to be provided during a single visit for a particular target population. Inputs to the IP model are derived using state-transition models, which compute lifetime costs and health benefits associated with each intervention. In a simplified example of a single lifetime cervical cancer screening visit, we identified packages of interventions among six diseases that maximized disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) averted subject to budget and human resource constraints in four resource-poor regions. Data were obtained from regional reports and surveys from the World Health Organization, international databases, the published literature, and expert opinion. With only a budget constraint, interventions for depression and iron deficiency anemia were packaged with cervical cancer screening, while the more costly breast cancer and cardiovascular disease interventions were not. Including personnel constraints resulted in shifting of interventions included in the package, not only across diseases but also between low- and high-intensity intervention options within diseases.
Conclusions
The results of our example suggest several key themes: Packaging other interventions during a one-time visit has the potential to increase health gains; the shortage of personnel represents a real-world constraint that can impact the optimal package of services; and the shortage of different types of personnel may influence the contents of the package of services. Our methods provide a general framework to enhance a decision maker's ability to simultaneously consider costs, benefits, and important nonmonetary constraints. We encourage analysts working on real-world problems to shift from considering costs and benefits of interventions for a single disease to exploring what synergies might be achievable by thinking across disease burdens.
Jane Kim and colleagues analyzed the possible ways that multiple health interventions might be packaged together during a single visit, taking into account scarce financial and human resources.
Editors' Summary
Background.
Public health decision makers in developed and developing countries are exploring the idea of providing packages of health checks at specific times during a person's lifetime to detect and/or prevent life-threatening diseases such as diabetes, heart problems, and some cancers. Bundling together tests for different diseases has advantages for both health-care systems and patients. It can save time and money for both parties and, by associating health checks with life events such as childbirth, it can take advantage of a valuable opportunity to check on the overall health of individuals who may otherwise rarely visit a doctor. But money and other resources (for example, nurses to measure blood pressure) are always limited, even in wealthy countries, so decision makers have to assess the likely costs and benefits of packages of interventions before putting them into action.
Why Was This Study Done?
Recent evidence suggests that women in developing countries would benefit from a once-in-a-lifetime screen for cervical cancer, a leading cause of cancer death for this population. If such a screening strategy for cervical cancer were introduced, it might provide a good opportunity to offer women other health checks, but it is unclear which interventions should be packaged together. In this study, the researchers have developed an analytic framework to identify an optimal package of health services to offer to women attending a clinic for their lifetime cervical cancer screen. Their model takes into account monetary limitations and possible shortages in trained personnel to do the health checks, and balances these constraints against the likely health benefits for the women.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers developed a “mathematical programming” model to identify an optimal package of health services to be provided during a single visit. They then used their model to estimate the average costs and health outcomes per woman of various combinations of health interventions for 35- to 40-year-old women living in four regions of the world with high adult death rates. The researchers chose breast cancer, cardiovascular disease, depression, anemia caused by iron deficiency, and sexually transmitted diseases as health conditions to be checked in addition to cervical cancer during the single visit. They considered two ways—one cheap in terms of money and people; the other more expensive but often more effective—of checking for or dealing with each potential health problem. When they set a realistic budgetary constraint (based on the annual health budget of the poorest countries and a single health check per woman in the two decades following her reproductive years), the optimal health package generated by the model for all four regions included cervical cancer screening done by testing for human papillomavirus (an effective but complex test), treatment for depression, and screening or treatment for anemia. When a 50% shortage in general (for example, nurses) and specialized (for example, doctors) personnel time was also included, the health benefits of the package were maximized by using a simpler test for cervical cancer and by treating anemia but not depression; this freed up resources in some regions to screen for breast cancer or cardiovascular disease.
What Do These Findings Mean?
The model described by the researchers provides a way to explore the potential advantages of delivering a package of health interventions to individuals in a single visit. Like all mathematical models, its conclusions rely heavily on the data used in its construction. Indeed, the researchers stress that, because they did not have full data on the effectiveness of each intervention and made many other assumptions, their results on their own cannot be used to make policy decisions. Nevertheless, their results clearly show that the packaging of multiple health services during a single visit has great potential to maximize health gains, provided the right interventions are chosen. Most importantly, their analysis shows that in the real world the shortage of personnel, which has been ignored in previous analyses even though it is a major problem in many developing countries, will affect which health conditions and specific interventions should be bundled together to provide the greatest impact on public health.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.0030434.g001.
The World Health Organization has information on choosing cost-effective health interventions and on human resources for health
The American Cancer Society offers patient information on cervical cancer
The Alliance for Cervical Cancer Prevention includes information about cervical cancer prevention programs in developing countries
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0030434
PMCID: PMC1635742  PMID: 17105337
25.  Interprofessional faculty development: integration of oral health into the geriatric diabetes curriculum, from theory to practice 
Background
Health care workforce shortages and an increase demand for health care services by an older demographic challenged by oral–systemic conditions are being recognized across health care systems. Demands are placed on health care professionals to render coordinated delivery of services. Management of oral–systemic conditions requires a trained health care workforce to render interprofessional patient-centered and coordinated delivery of health care services. The purpose of this investigation was to evaluate the effectiveness of an interprofessional health care faculty training program.
Methods
A statewide comprehensive type 2 diabetes training program was developed and offered to multidisciplinary health care faculty using innovative educational methods. Video-recorded clinically simulated patient encounters concentrated on the oral–systemic interactions between type 2 diabetes and comorbidities. Post-encounter instructors facilitated debriefing focused on preconceptions, self-assessment, and peer discussions, to develop a joint interprofessional care plan. Furthermore, the health care faculty explored nonhierarchical opportunities to bridge common health care themes and concepts, as well as opportunities to translate information into classroom instruction and patient care.
Results
Thirty-six health care faculty from six disciplines completed the pre-research and post-research assessment survey to evaluate attitudes, knowledge, and perceptions following the interprofessional health care faculty training program. Post-training interprofessional team building knowledge improved significantly. The health care faculty post-training attitude scores improved significantly, with heightened awareness of the unique oral–systemic care needs of older adults with type 2 diabetes, supporting an interprofessional team approach to care management. In addition, the health care faculty viewed communication across disciplines as being essential and interprofessional training as being vital to the core curriculum of each discipline. Significant improvement occurred in the perception survey items for team accountability and use of uniform terminology to bridge communication gaps.
Conclusion
Attitude, knowledge, and perceptions of health care faculty regarding interprofessional team building and the team approach to management of the oral–systemic manifestations of chronic disease in older adults was improved. Uniform language to promote communication across health professionals, care settings, and caregivers/patients, was noted. Interprofessional team building/care planning should be integrated in core curricula.
doi:10.2147/JMDH.S54851
PMCID: PMC3862736  PMID: 24363558
team building; patient-centered care; oral–systemic; older adults

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