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1.  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
2.  A systematic review of the effectiveness of mental health promotion interventions for young people in low and middle income countries 
BMC Public Health  2013;13:835.
Background
This systematic review provides a narrative synthesis of the evidence on the effectiveness of mental health promotion interventions for young people in low and middle-income countries (LMICs). Commissioned by the WHO, a review of the evidence for mental health promotion interventions across the lifespan from early years to adulthood was conducted. This paper reports on the findings for interventions promoting the positive mental health of young people (aged 6–18 years) in school and community-based settings.
Methods
Searching a range of electronic databases, 22 studies employing RCTs (N = 11) and quasi-experimental designs conducted in LMICs since 2000 were identified. Fourteen studies of school-based interventions implemented in eight LMICs were reviewed; seven of which included interventions for children living in areas of armed conflict and six interventions of multicomponent lifeskills and resilience training. Eight studies evaluating out-of-school community interventions for adolescents were identified in five countries. Using the Effective Public Health Practice Project (EPHPP) criteria, two reviewers independently assessed the quality of the evidence.
Results
The findings from the majority of the school-based interventions are strong. Structured universal interventions for children living in conflict areas indicate generally significant positive effects on students’ emotional and behavioural wellbeing, including improved self-esteem and coping skills. However, mixed results were also reported, including differential effects for gender and age groups, and two studies reported nonsignficant findings. The majority of the school-based lifeskills and resilience programmes received a moderate quality rating, with findings indicating positive effects on students’ self-esteem, motivation and self-efficacy. The quality of evidence from the community-based interventions for adolescents was moderate to strong with promising findings concerning the potential of multicomponent interventions to impact on youth mental health and social wellbeing.
Conclusions
The review findings indicate that interventions promoting the mental health of young people can be implemented effectively in LMIC school and community settings with moderate to strong evidence of their impact on both positive and negative mental health outcomes. There is a paucity of evidence relating to interventions for younger children in LMIC primary schools. Evidence for the scaling up and sustainability of mental health promotion interventions in LMICs needs to be strengthened.
doi:10.1186/1471-2458-13-835
PMCID: PMC3848687  PMID: 24025155
Mental health promotion; Young people; Low and middle income countries; Systematic review
3.  Disability associated with exposure to traumatic events: results from a cross-sectional community survey in South Sudan 
BMC Public Health  2013;13:469.
Background
There is a general lack of knowledge regarding disability and especially factors that are associated with disability in low-income countries. We aimed to study the overall and gender-specific prevalence of disability, and the association between exposure to traumatic events and disability in a post-conflict setting.
Methods
We conducted a cross-sectional community based study of four Greater Bahr el Ghazal States, South Sudan (n = 1200). The Harvard Trauma Questionnaire (HTQ) was applied to investigate exposure to trauma events. Disability was measured using the Washington Group Short Measurement Set on Disability, which is an activity-based scale derived from the WHO’s International Classification of Disability, Functioning and Health.
Results
The estimated prevalence of disability (with severe difficulty) was 3.6% and 13.4% for disability with moderate difficulties. No gender differences were found in disability prevalence. Almost all participants reported exposure to at least one war-related traumatic event. The result of a hierarchical regression analysis showed that, for both men and women, exposure to traumatic events, older age and living in a polygamous marriage increased the likelihood of having a disability.
Conclusions
The finding of association between traumatic experience and disability underlines the precariousness of the human rights situation for individuals with disability in low-income countries. It also has possible implications for the construction of disability services and for the provision of health services to individuals exposed to traumatic events.
doi:10.1186/1471-2458-13-469
PMCID: PMC3658891  PMID: 23672785
Disability; Traumatic events; Post-conflict; South Sudan
4.  Exploring the perspectives and experiences of health workers at primary health facilities in Kenya following training 
Background
A cluster randomised controlled trial (RCT) of a national Kenyan mental health primary care training programme demonstrated a significant impact for health workers on the health, disability and quality of life of their clients, despite a severe shortage of medicines in the clinics. In order to better understand the potential reasons for the improved outcomes in the intervention group, the experiences of the participating health workers were explored through qualitative focus group discussions, as focus group methodology has been found to be a useful method of obtaining a detailed understanding of client and health worker perspectives within health systems.
Methods
Two ninety minute focus groups were conducted in Nyanza province, a poor agricultural region of Kenya, with 10 health workers 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 during the earlier randomised controlled trial.
Results
These focus group discussions suggest that the health workers in the intervention group perceived an increase in their communication, diagnostic and counselling skills, and that the clients in the intervention group noticed and appreciated these enhanced skills, while health workers and clients in the control group were both aware of the lack of these skills.
Conclusion
Enhanced health worker skills conferred by the mental health training programme may be responsible for the significant improvement in outcome of patients in the intervention clinics found in the randomised controlled trial, despite the general shortage of medicines and other health system weaknesses. These findings suggest that strengthening mental health training for primary care staff is worthwhile even where health systems are not strong and where the medicine supply cannot be guaranteed.
Trial registration
ISRCTN 53515024
doi:10.1186/1752-4458-7-6
PMCID: PMC3599922  PMID: 23379737
5.  Perspectives and concerns of clients at primary health care facilities involved in evaluation of a national mental health training programme for primary care in Kenya 
Background
A cluster randomised controlled trial (RCT) of a national Kenyan mental health primary care training programme demonstrated a significant impact on the health, disability and quality of life of clients, despite a severe shortage of medicines in the clinics (Jenkins et al. Submitted 2012). As focus group methodology has been found to be a useful method of obtaining a detailed understanding of client and health worker perspectives within health systems (Sharfritz and Roberts. Health Transit Rev 4:81–85, 1994), the experiences of the participating clients were explored through qualitative focus group discussions in order to better understand the potential reasons for the improved outcomes in the intervention group.
Methods
Two ninety minute focus groups were conducted in Nyanza province, a poor agricultural region of Kenya, with 10 clients from the intervention group clinics where staff had received the training programme, and 10 clients from the control group where staff had not received the training during the earlier randomised controlled trial.
Results
These focus group discussions suggest that the clients in the intervention group noticed and appreciated enhanced communication, diagnostic and counselling skills in their respective health workers, whereas clients in the control group were aware of the lack of these skills. Confidentiality emerged from the discussions as a significant client concern in relation to the volunteer cadre of community health workers, whose only training comes from their respective primary care health workers.
Conclusion
Enhanced health worker skills conferred by the mental health training programme may be responsible for the significant improvement in outcomes for clients in the intervention clinics found in the randomised controlled trial, despite the general shortage of medicines and other health system weaknesses. These findings suggest that strengthening mental health training for primary care staff is worthwhile even where health systems are not strong and where the medicine supply cannot be guaranteed.
Trial registration
ISRCTN 53515024.
doi:10.1186/1752-4458-7-5
PMCID: PMC3576266  PMID: 23343127
6.  Impact of a one-week intensive ‘training of trainers’ workshop for community health workers in south-west Nigeria 
Background There is a huge unmet need for mental health services in low- and middle-in-come countries such as Nigeria. It has been suggested that one way of bridging the service gap is to plan for the effective integration of mental health services into primary care. We present the impact of a one-week training workshop on attitudes to and knowledge of mental health issues among the tutors of community health workers.
Method An intensive one-week training workshop was organised for 24 trainers of community health officers from eight Nigerian states. The package was designed for the training of primary care workers in low-income countries by one of the authors (RJ). Participants completed a questionnaire designed to assess knowledge of and attitudes to mental health issues before and on completion of the training.
Results There were 24 participants with a mean age of 47 years (SD ± 4.89). Eighteen (75%) of the participants were female. The overall assessment of knowledge of mental health issues increased from a mean score of 60.4% before training to a mean score of 73.7% after the training (t-test = 4.48, P = 0.001).
Conclusion We reported a significant improvement in the knowledge and attitudes of tutors of community health workers following an intensive one-week training workshop. This, we believe, should improve the quality of pre-service mental health training for community health workers and hopefully impact on mental health service delivery at the primary healthcare level.
PMCID: PMC3487605  PMID: 23277796
community health workers; long-term impact; training of trainers
7.  Integration of mental health into primary care in Sri Lanka 
Introduction Sri Lanka has one of the highest suicide rates in the world, with recent protracted conflict and the tsunami aggravating mental health needs. This paper describes a project to establish a systematic “train the trainers” programme to integrate mental health into primary care in Sri Lanka's public health system and private sector.
Methods A 40 hour training programme was delivered to curriculum and teaching materials were adapted for Sri Lanka, and delivered to 45 psychiatrists, 110 medical officers of mental health and 95 registered medical practitioners, through five courses, each in a different region (Colombo, Kandy, Jaffna, Galle and Batticola). Participants were selected by the senior psychiatrist of each region, on the basis of ability to conduct subsequent roll out of the training. The course was very interactive, with discussions, role plays and small group work, as well as brief theory sessions.
Results Qualitative participant feedback was encouraging about the value of the course in improving patient assessments and treatments, and in providing a valuable package for roll out to others. Systematic improvement was achieved between pre- and post-test scores of participants at all training sites. The participants had not had prior experience in such interactive teaching methods, but were able to learn these new techniques relatively quickly.
Conclusions The programme has been conducted in collaboration with the Sri Lankan National Institute of Mental Health and the Ministry of Health, and this partnership has helped to ensure that the training is tailored to Sri Lanka and has the chance of long term sustainability.
PMCID: PMC3487606  PMID: 23277794
mental health; primary care; trainers; training
8.  Monitoring and evaluation of the activities of trainees in the ‘training of trainers’ workshop at Ibadan, south-west Nigeria 
Background Like most low- and middle-income countries, Nigeria has a huge treatment gap for mental disorders. The World Health Organization has proposed the integration of mental health care into primary health service delivery as one of the ways to bridge this treatment gap. Studies have shown an immediate positive impact of mental health training for primary care workers. We evaluated the impact of training on the tutors of primary care workers approximately 12 months after the training.
Method An intensive five-day training workshop for college teachers of mental health in community health officer (CHO) training institutions in south-west Nigeria was conducted in January 2009. Four of the 24 participants were randomly selected for evaluation of the impact of training on their activities approximately 12 months after the workshop. Qualitative methods were used, namely in-depth interviews, direct observation of classroom teaching by the participants and focus group discussion with their students.
Results The participants interviewed reported a positive impact of the ‘training of trainers’ (TOT) workshop on their mental health course teaching. Direct observation of four participants revealed that three of them exhibited a high fidelity with the TOT course material and imbibed the teaching techniques advocated. The tutors' students also reported an improvement in the quality of their mental health classes.
Conclusion The training had an overall positive impact on the activities of the trainees approximately one year after the workshop.
PMCID: PMC3487609  PMID: 23277795
community health workers; mental heath training; positive impact
9.  Treatment outcomes in palliative care: the TOPCare study. A mixed methods phase III randomised controlled trial to assess the effectiveness of a nurse-led palliative care intervention for HIV positive patients on antiretroviral therapy 
BMC Infectious Diseases  2012;12:288.
Background
Patients with HIV/AIDS on Antiretroviral Therapy (ART) suffer from physical, psychological and spiritual problems. Despite international policy explicitly stating that a multidimensional approach such as palliative care should be delivered throughout the disease trajectory and alongside treatment, the effectiveness of this approach has not been tested in ART-experienced populations.
Methods/design
This mixed methods study uses a Randomised Controlled Trial (RCT) to test the null hypothesis that receipt of palliative care in addition to standard HIV care does not affect pain compared to standard care alone. An additional qualitative component will explore the mechanism of action and participant experience. The sample size is designed to detect a statistically significant decrease in reported pain, determined by a two tailed test and a p value of ≤0.05. Recruited patients will be adults on ART for more than one month, who report significant pain or symptoms which have lasted for more than two weeks (as measured by the African Palliative Care Association (APCA) African Palliative Outcome Scale (POS)). The intervention under trial is palliative care delivered by an existing HIV facility nurse trained to a set standard. Following an initial pilot the study will be delivered in two African countries, using two parallel independent Phase III clinical RCTs. Qualitative data will be collected from semi structured interviews and documentation from clinical encounters, to explore the experience of receiving palliative care in this context.
Discussion
The data provided by this study will provide evidence to inform the improvement of outcomes for people living with HIV and on ART in Africa.
ClinicalTrials.gov Identifier: NCT01608802
doi:10.1186/1471-2334-12-288
PMCID: PMC3538672  PMID: 23130740
HIV; ART; Palliative care; Africa; Evaluation
10.  Comparative Performance of Private and Public Healthcare Systems in Low- and Middle-Income Countries: A Systematic Review 
PLoS Medicine  2012;9(6):e1001244.
A systematic review conducted by Sanjay Basu and colleagues reevaluates the evidence relating to comparative performance of public versus private sector healthcare delivery in low- and middle-income countries.
Introduction
Private sector healthcare delivery in low- and middle-income countries is sometimes argued to be more efficient, accountable, and sustainable than public sector delivery. Conversely, the public sector is often regarded as providing more equitable and evidence-based care. We performed a systematic review of research studies investigating the performance of private and public sector delivery in low- and middle-income countries.
Methods and Findings
Peer-reviewed studies including case studies, meta-analyses, reviews, and case-control analyses, as well as reports published by non-governmental organizations and international agencies, were systematically collected through large database searches, filtered through methodological inclusion criteria, and organized into six World Health Organization health system themes: accessibility and responsiveness; quality; outcomes; accountability, transparency, and regulation; fairness and equity; and efficiency. Of 1,178 potentially relevant unique citations, data were obtained from 102 articles describing studies conducted in low- and middle-income countries. Comparative cohort and cross-sectional studies suggested that providers in the private sector more frequently violated medical standards of practice and had poorer patient outcomes, but had greater reported timeliness and hospitality to patients. Reported efficiency tended to be lower in the private than in the public sector, resulting in part from perverse incentives for unnecessary testing and treatment. Public sector services experienced more limited availability of equipment, medications, and trained healthcare workers. When the definition of “private sector” included unlicensed and uncertified providers such as drug shop owners, most patients appeared to access care in the private sector; however, when unlicensed healthcare providers were excluded from the analysis, the majority of people accessed public sector care. “Competitive dynamics” for funding appeared between the two sectors, such that public funds and personnel were redirected to private sector development, followed by reductions in public sector service budgets and staff.
Conclusions
Studies evaluated in this systematic review do not support the claim that the private sector is usually more efficient, accountable, or medically effective than the public sector; however, the public sector appears frequently to lack timeliness and hospitality towards patients.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Health care can be provided through public and private providers. Public health care is usually provided by the government through national healthcare systems. Private health care can be provided through “for profit” hospitals and self-employed practitioners, and “not for profit” non-government providers, including faith-based organizations.
There is considerable ideological debate around whether low- and middle-income countries should strengthen public versus private healthcare services, but in reality, most low- and middle-income countries use both types of healthcare provision. Recently, as the global economic recession has put major constraints on government budgets—the major funding source for healthcare expenditures in most countries—disputes between the proponents of private and public systems have escalated, further fuelled by the recommendation of International Monetary Fund (an international finance institution) that countries increase the scope of private sector provision in health care as part of loan conditions to reduce government debt. However, critics of the private health sector believe that public healthcare provision is of most benefit to poor people and is the only way to achieve universal and equitable access to health care.
Why Was This Study Done?
Both sides of the public versus private healthcare debate draw on selected case reports to defend their viewpoints, but there is a widely held view that the private health system is more efficient than the public health system. Therefore, in order to inform policy, there is an urgent need for robust evidence to evaluate the quality and effectiveness of the health care provided through both systems. In this study, the authors reviewed all of the evidence in a systematic way to evaluate available data on public and private sector performance.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers used eight databases and a comprehensive key word search to identify and review appropriate published data and studies of private and public sector performance in low- and middle-income countries. They assessed selected studies against the World Health Organization's six essential themes of health systems—accessibility and responsiveness; quality; outcomes; accountability, transparency, and regulation; fairness and equity; and efficiency—and conducted a narrative review of each theme.
Out of the 102 relevant studies included in their comparative analysis, 59 studies were research studies and 13 involved meta-analysis, with the rest involving case reports or reviews. The researchers found that study findings varied considerably across countries studied (one-third of studies were conducted in Africa and a third in Southeast Asia) and by the methods used.
Financial barriers to care (such as user fees) were reported for both public and private systems. Although studies report that patients in the private sector experience better timeliness and hospitality, studies suggest that providers in the private sector more frequently violate accepted medical standards and have lower reported efficiency.
What Do These Findings Mean?
This systematic review did not support previous views that private sector delivery of health care in low- and middle-income settings is more efficient, accountable, or effective than public sector delivery. Each system has its strengths and weaknesses, but importantly, in both sectors, there were financial barriers to care, and each had poor accountability and transparency. This systematic review highlights a limited and poor-quality evidence base regarding the comparative performance of the two systems.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001244.
A previous PLoS Medicine study examined the outpatient care provided by the public and private sector in low-income countries
The WHO website provides more information on healthcare systems
The World Bank website provides information on health system financing
Oxfam provides an argument against increased private health care in poor countries
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001244
PMCID: PMC3378609  PMID: 22723748
19.  Putting Evidence into Practice: The PLoS Medicine Series on Global Mental Health Practice 
PLoS Medicine  2012;9(5):e1001226.
The PLoS Medicine editors announce the launch of a new series on Global Mental Health Practice, and issue a call for papers.
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001226
PMCID: PMC3362639
20.  Psychotic Symptoms in Kenya – Prevalence, Risk Factors, and Relationship with Common Mental Disorders 
There have been few epidemiological surveys to establish prevalence and associated risk factors of psychosis in Sub-Saharan Africa. This paper reports a population- based epidemiological survey in rural Kenya of the prevalence of psychotic symptoms and their relationship with demographic, socio-economic and other risk factors. A random sample of 2% of all adults living in Maseno, Kisumu District of Nyanza province, Kenya (50,000 population) were studied, aiming for a sample size of 1,000 people. The psychosis screening questionnaire was used to assess the prevalence of psychotic symptoms in the preceding twelve months. The response rate was 87.6%. The prevalence of single psychotic symptoms in rural Kenya was 8% of the adult population, but only 0.6% had two symptoms and none had three or more psychotic symptoms in this sample size. Psychotic symptoms were evenly distributed across this relatively poor rural population and were significantly associated with presence of common mental disorders, and to a lesser extent with poor physical health and housing type. We conclude that single psychotic symptoms are relatively common in rural Kenya and rates are elevated in those with CMD, poor physical health and poor housing.
doi:10.3390/ijerph9051748
PMCID: PMC3386585  PMID: 22754470
epidemiology; Kenya; psychosis; development
21.  Prevalence of Common Mental Disorders in a Rural District of Kenya, and Socio-Demographic Risk Factors 
Association between common mental disorders (CMDs), equity, poverty and socio-economic functioning are relatively well explored in high income countries, but there have been fewer studies in low and middle income countries, despite the considerable burden posed by mental disorders, especially in Africa, and their potential impact on development. This paper reports a population-based epidemiological survey of a rural area in Kenya. A random sample of 2% of all adults living in private households in Maseno, Kisumu District of Nyanza Province, Kenya (50,000 population), were studied. The Clinical Interview Schedule-Revised (CIS-R) was used to determine the prevalence of common mental disorders (CMDs). Associations with socio-demographic and economic characteristics were explored. A CMD prevalence of 10.8% was found, with no gender difference. Higher rates of illness were found in those who were of older age and those in poor physical health. We conclude that CMDs are common in Kenya and rates are elevated among people who are older, and those in poor health.
doi:10.3390/ijerph9051810
PMCID: PMC3386589  PMID: 22754474
epidemiology; Kenya; development
22.  Integrating mental health into primary health care in Iraq 
The Ministry of Health in Iraq is undertaking a systematic programme to integrate mental health into primary care in order to increase population access to mental health care. This paper reports the evaluation of the delivery of a ten day interactive training programme to 20% of primary care centres across Iraq. The multistage evaluation included a pre- and post-test questionnaire to assess knowledge, attitudes and practice in health workers drawn from 143 health centres, a course evaluation questionnaire and, in a random sample of 41 clinics, direct observation of health workers skills and exit interviews of patients, comparing health workers who had received the training programme with those from the same clinics who had not received the training. Three hundred andseventeen health workersparticipated in the training, which achieved an improvement in test scores from 42.3% to 59%. Trained health workers were observed by research psychiatrists to have a higher level of excellent skills than the untrained health workers, and patient exit interviews also reported better skills in the trained rather than untrained health workers. The two week course has thus been able to achieve significant change, not only in knowledge, but also in subsequent demonstration of trained practitioners practical skills in the workplace. Furthermore, it has been possible to implement the course and the evaluation despite a complex conflict situation.
PMCID: PMC3134212  PMID: 22479291
evaluation; mental health; primary care; training
23.  Mental health law in the community: thinking about Africa 
The new United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities creates a new paradigm for mental health law, moving from a focus on institutional care to a focus on community-based services and treatment. This article considers implementation of this approach in Africa.
doi:10.1186/1752-4458-5-21
PMCID: PMC3189124  PMID: 21914182
24.  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
25.  Integration of mental health into primary care and community health working in Kenya: context, rationale, coverage and sustainability 
Integration of mental health into primary care is essential to meet population needs yet faces many challenges if such projects are to achieve impact and be sustainable in low income countries alongside other competing priorities. This paper describes the rationale and progress of a collaborative project in Kenya to train primary care and community health workers about mental health and integrate mental health into their routine work, Within a health systems strengthening approach. So far 1877 health workers have been trained. The paper describes the multiple challenges faced by the project, and reviews the mechanisms deployed which have strengthened its impact and sustainability to date.
PMCID: PMC2925163  PMID: 22477921
integration; Kenya; mental health; primary care; sustainability; training

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