This paper explores the implementation and sustenance of universal health coverage (UHC) in Costa Rica, discussing the development of a social security scheme that covered 5% of the population in 1940, to one that finances and provides comprehensive healthcare to the whole population today. The scheme is financed by mandatory, tri-partite social insurance contributions complemented by tax funding to cover the poor.
The analysis takes a historical perspective and explores the policy process including the key actors and their relative influence in decision-making. Data were collected using qualitative research instruments, including a review of literature, institutional and other documents, and in-depth interviews with key informants.
Key lessons to be learned are: i) population health was high on the political agenda in Costa Rica, in particular before the 1980s when UHC was enacted and the transfer of hospitals to the social security institution took place. Opposition to UHC could therefore be contained through negotiation and implemented incrementally despite the absence of real consensus among the policy elite; ii) since the 1960s, the social security institution has been responsible for UHC in Costa Rica. This institution enjoys financial and managerial autonomy relative to the general government, which has also facilitated the UHC policy implementation process; iii) UHC was simultaneously constructed on three pillars that reciprocally strengthened each other: increasing population coverage, increasing availability of financial resources based on solidarity financing mechanisms, and increasing service coverage, ultimately offering comprehensive health services and the same benefits to every resident in the country; iv) particularly before the 1980s, the fruits of economic growth were structurally invested in health and other universal social policies, in particular education and sanitation. The social security institution became a flagship of Costa Rica’s national development strategy which reinforced its political importance and contributed to its longer-term sustainability and that of UHC.
UHC has been achieved in Costa Rica because it was supported at the highest political level within a favourable socio-economic and political context. Once achieved, UHC became an entitlement for the population and now enjoys broad public support.
Health policy; Social protection; Universal health coverage
India’s health expenditure is met mostly by households through out-of-pocket (OOP) payments at the time of illness. To protect poor families, the Indian government launched a national health insurance scheme (RSBY). Those below the national poverty line (BPL) are eligible to join the RSBY. The premium is heavily subsidised by the government. The enrolled members receive a card and can avail of free hospitalisation care up to a maximum of US$ 600 per family per year. The hospitals are reimbursed by the insurance companies. The objective of our study was to analyse the extent to which RSBY contributes to universal health coverage by protecting families from making OOP payments.
A two-stage stratified sampling technique was used to identify eligible BPL families in Patan district of Gujarat, India. Initially, all 517 villages were listed and 78 were selected randomly. From each of these villages, 40 BPL households were randomly selected and a structured questionnaire was administered. Interviews and discussions were also conducted among key stakeholders.
Our sample contained 2,920 households who had enrolled in the RSBY; most were from the poorer sections of society. The average hospital admission rate for the period 2010–2011 was 40/1,000 enrolled. Women, elderly and those belonging to the lowest caste had a higher hospitalisation rate. Forty four per cent of patients who had enrolled in RSBY and had used the RSBY card still faced OOP payments at the time of hospitalisation. The median OOP payment for the above patients was US$ 80 (interquartile range, $16–$200) and was similar in both government and private hospitals. Patients incurred OOP payments mainly because they were asked to purchase medicines and diagnostics, though the same were included in the benefit package.
While the RSBY has managed to include the poor under its umbrella, it has provided only partial financial coverage. Nearly 60% of insured and admitted patients made OOP payments. We plea for better monitoring of the scheme and speculate that it is possible to enhance effective financial coverage of the RSBY if the nodal agency at state level would strengthen its stewardship and oversight functions.
Financial protection; Health insurance; India; National health insurance scheme; Out-of-pocket payments; RSBY; Universal health coverage
Public-private collaborations are increasingly being utilized to universalize health care. In Malawi, the Ministry of Health contracts selected health facilities owned by the main faith-based provider, the Christian Health Association of Malawi (CHAM), to deliver care at no fee to the most vulnerable and underserved populations in the country through Service Level Agreements (SLAs). This study examined the features of SLAs and their effectiveness in expanding universal coverage. The study involved a policy analysis focusing on key stakeholders around SLAs as well as a case study approach to analyse how design and implementation of SLAs affect efficiency, equity and sustainability of services delivered by SLAs.
The study employed both qualitative and quantitative research methods to address the research questions and was conducted in five CHAM health facilities: Mulanje Mission, Holy Family, and Mtengowanthenga Hospitals, and Mabiri and Nkope Health Centres. National and district level decision makers were interviewed while providers and clients associated with the health facilities were surveyed on their experiences. A total of 155 clients from an expected 175 were recruited in the study.
The study findings revealed key aspects of how SLAs were operating, the extent to which their objectives were being attained and why. In general, the findings demonstrated that SLAs had the potential to improve health and universal health care coverage, particularly for the vulnerable and underserved populations. However, the findings show that the performance of SLAs in Malawi were affected by various factors including lack of clear guidelines, non-revised prices, late payment of bills, lack of transparency, poor communication, inadequate human and material resources, and lack of systems to monitor performance of SLAs, amongst others.
There was strong consensus and shared interest between the government and CHAM regarding SLAs. It was clear that free services provided by SLAs had a great impact on the impoverished locals that used the facilities. However, lack of supporting systems, inadequate infrastructure and shortage of health care providers affected SLA performance. The paper provides recommendations to policy makers for the replication and strengthening of SLA implementation in the roll-out of universalization policy.
Health policy; Financial risk protection; Policy analysis; Universal coverage
Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) were previously considered to only affect high-income countries. However, they now account for a very large burden in terms of both mortality and morbidity in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), although little is known about the impact these diseases have on households in these countries. In this paper, we present a literature review on the costs imposed by NCDs on households in LMICs. We examine both the costs of obtaining medical care and the costs associated with being unable to work, while discussing the methodological issues of particular studies. The results suggest that NCDs pose a heavy financial burden on many affected households; poor households are the most financially affected when they seek care. Medicines are usually the largest component of costs and the use of originator brand medicines leads to higher than necessary expenses. In particular, in the treatment of diabetes, insulin – when required – represents an important source of spending for patients and their families. These financial costs deter many people suffering from NCDs from seeking the care they need. The limited health insurance coverage for NCDs is reflected in the low proportions of patients claiming reimbursement and the low reimbursement rates in existing insurance schemes. The costs associated with lost income-earning opportunities are also significant for many households. Therefore, NCDs impose a substantial financial burden on many households, including the poor in low-income countries. The financial costs of obtaining care also impose insurmountable barriers to access for some people, which illustrates the urgency of improving financial risk protection in health in LMIC settings and ensuring that NCDs are taken into account in these systems. In this paper, we identify areas where further research is needed to have a better view of the costs incurred by households because of NCDs; namely, the extension of the geographical scope, the inclusion of certain diseases hitherto little studied, the introduction of a time dimension, and more comparisons with acute illnesses.
Financial burden; Low- and middle-income countries; Non-communicable diseases; Review
Attention is increasingly directed to bridging the gap between the production of knowledge and its use for health decision-making in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). An important and underdeveloped area of health policy and systems research (HPSR) is the organization of this process. Drawing from an interdisciplinary conception of embeddedness, a literature review was conducted to identify examples of embedded HPSR used to inform decision-making in LMICs. The results of the literature review were organized according to the World Health Organization’s Building Blocks Framework. Next, a conceptual model was created to illustrate the arrangement of organizations that produce embedded HPSR and the characteristics that facilitate its uptake into the arena of decision-making. We found that multiple forces converge to create context-specific pathways through which evidence enters into decision-making. Depending on the decision under consideration, the literature indicates that decision-makers may call upon an intricate combination of actors for sourcing HPSR. While proximity to decision-making does have advantages, it is not the position of the organization within the network, but rather the qualities the organization possesses, that enable it to be embedded. Our findings suggest that four qualities influence embeddedness: reputation, capacity, quality of connections to decision-makers, and quantity of connections to decision-makers and others. In addition to this, the policy environment (e.g. the presence of legislation governing the use of HPSR, presence of strong civil society, etc.) strongly influences uptake. Through this conceptual model, we can understand which conditions are likely to enhance uptake of HPSR in LMIC health systems. This raises several important considerations for decision-makers and researchers about the arrangement and interaction of evidence-generating organizations in health systems.
Embeddedness; Evidence-informed policy-making; Health policy and systems research; Low- and middle-income countries
Empirical evidence demonstrates that the Thai Universal Coverage Scheme (UCS) has improved equity of health financing and provided a relatively high level of financial risk protection. Several UCS design features contribute to these outcomes: a tax-financed scheme, a comprehensive benefit package and gradual extension of coverage to illnesses that can lead to catastrophic household costs, and capacity of the National Health Security Office (NHSO) to mobilise adequate resources. This study assesses the policy processes related to making decisions on these features.
The study employs qualitative methods including reviews of relevant documents, in-depth interviews of 25 key informants, and triangulation amongst information sources.
Continued political and financial commitments to the UCS, despite political rivalry, played a key role. The Thai Rak Thai (TRT)-led coalition government introduced UCS; staying in power 8 of the 11 years between 2001 and 2011 was long enough to nurture and strengthen the UCS and overcome resistance from various opponents. Prime Minister Surayud’s government, replacing the ousted TRT government, introduced universal renal replacement therapy, which deepened financial risk protection.
Commitment to their manifesto and fiscal capacity pushed the TRT to adopt a general tax-financed universal scheme; collecting premiums from people engaged in the informal sector was neither politically palatable nor technically feasible. The relatively stable tenure of NHSO Secretary Generals and the chairs of the Financing and the Benefit Package subcommittees provided a platform for continued deepening of financial risk protection. NHSO exerted monopsonistic purchasing power to control prices, resulting in greater patient access and better systems efficiency than might have been the case with a different design.
The approach of proposing an annual per capita budget changed the conventional line-item programme budgeting system by basing negotiations between the Bureau of Budget, the NHSO and other stakeholders on evidence of service utilization and unit costs.
Future success of Thai UCS requires coverage of effective interventions that address primary and secondary prevention of non-communicable diseases and long-term care policies in view of epidemiologic and demographic transitions. Lessons for other countries include the importance of continued political support, evidence informed decisions, and a capable purchaser organization.
Continued political support; Financial risk protection; Tax-financed universal scheme; Thailand; Universal health coverage
Australia’s commitment to consumer and community participation in health and medical research has grown over the past decade. Participatory research models of engagement are the most empowering for consumers.
As part of a project to develop a diagnostic instrument for fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) in Australia (FASD Project), the Australian FASD Collaboration (Collaboration), including a consumer advocate and two consumer representatives, was established. On completion of the FASD Project an on-line survey of Collaboration members was conducted to assess their views on consumer involvement. Women in the community were also invited to participate in Community Conversations to discuss real life situations regarding communications with health professionals about alcohol and pregnancy. Community Conversation feedback was analysed qualitatively and attendees were surveyed about their views of the Community Conversation process.
The on-line survey was completed by 12 members of the Collaboration (71%). Consumer and community participation was considered important and essential, worked well, and was integral to the success of the project. The 32 women attending the Community Conversations generated 500 statements that made reference to prevention, how information and messages are delivered, and appropriate support for women. Nearly all the attendees at the Community Conversations (93%) believed that they had an opportunity to put forward their ideas and 96% viewed the Community Conversations as a positive experience.
The successful involvement of consumers and the community in the FASD Project can be attributed to active consumer and community participation, which included continued involvement throughout the project, funding of participation activities, and an understanding of the various contributions by the Collaboration members.
Consumer participation; Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder; Research
In 2010, the Ministry of Health in Zambia developed the National Community Health Assistant strategy, aiming to integrate community health workers (CHWs) into national health plans by creating a new group of workers, called community health assistants (CHAs). The aim of the paper is to analyse the CHA policy development process and the factors that influenced its evolution and content. A policy analysis approach was used to analyse the policy reform process.
Data were gathered through review of documents, participant observation and key informant interviews with CHA strategic team members in Lusaka district, and senior officials at the district level in Kapiri Mposhi district where some CHAs have been deployed.
The strategy was developed in order to address the human resources for health shortage and the challenges facing the community-based health workforce in Zambia. However, some actors within the strategic team were more influential than others in informing the policy agenda, determining the process, and shaping the content. These actors negotiated with professional/statutory bodies and health unions on the need to develop the new cadre which resulted in compromises that enabled the policy process to move forward. International agencies also indirectly influenced the course as well as the content of the strategy. Some actors classified the process as both insufficiently consultative and rushed. Due to limited consultation, it was suggested that the policy content did not adequately address key policy content issues such as management of staff attrition, general professional development, and progression matters. Analysis of the process also showed that the strategy might create a new group of workers whose mandate is unclear to the existing group of health workers.
This paper highlights the complex nature of policy-making processes for integrating CHWs into the health system. It reiterates the need for recognising the fact that actors’ power or position in the political hierarchy may, more than their knowledge and understanding of the issue, play a disproportionate role in shaping the process as well as content of health policy reform.
Human resources; National community health assistant strategy; Policy analysis; Zambia
Unsafe abortion is a major public health problem in Ghana; despite its liberal abortion law, access to safe, legal abortion in public health facilities is limited. Theory is often neglected as a tool for providing evidence to inform better practice; in this study we investigated the reasons for poor implementation of the policy in Ghana using Lipsky’s theory of street-level bureaucracy to better understand how providers shape and implement policy and how provider-level barriers might be overcome.
In-depth interviews were conducted with 43 health professionals of different levels (managers, obstetricians, midwives) at three hospitals in Accra, as well as staff from smaller and private sector facilities. Relevant policy and related documents were also analysed.
Findings confirm that health providers’ views shape provision of safe-abortion services. Most prominently, providers experience conflicts between their religious and moral beliefs about the sanctity of (foetal) life and their duty to provide safe-abortion care. Obstetricians were more exposed to international debates, treaties, and safe-abortion practices and had better awareness of national research on the public health implications of unsafe abortions; these factors tempered their religious views. Midwives were more driven by fundamental religious values condemning abortion as sinful. In addition to personal views and dilemmas, ‘social pressures’ (perceived views of others concerning abortion) and the actions of facility managers affected providers’ decision to (openly) provide abortion services.
In order to achieve a workable balance between these pressures and duties, providers use their ‘discretion’ in deciding if and when to provide abortion services, and develop ‘coping mechanisms’ which impede implementation of abortion policy.
The application of theory confirmed its utility in a lower-middle income setting and expanded its scope by showing that provider values and attitudes (not just resource constraints) modify providers’ implementation of policy; moreover their power of modification is constrained by organisational hierarchies and mid-level managers. We also revealed differing responses of ‘front line workers’ regarding the pressures they face; whilst midwives are seen globally as providers of safe-abortion services, in Ghana the midwife cadre displays more negative attitudes towards them than doctors. These findings allow the identification of recommendations for evidence-based practice.
Abortion; Ghana; Health policy; Lipsky; Policy implementation; Policy theory; Qualitative research
Acute respiratory infections remain a leading cause of morbidity and mortality in Sierra Leone; however, similar to other African countries, little is known regarding the contribution of influenza. Routine influenza surveillance is thus a key element to improve understanding of the burden of acute respiratory infections in Africa. In 2011, the World Health Organization (WHO) funded the Strengthening Influenza Sentinel Surveillance in Africa (SISA) project with the goal of developing and strengthening influenza surveillance in eight countries in sub-Saharan Africa, including Sierra Leone. This paper describes the process of establishing a functional Influenza Sentinel Surveillance (ISS) system in Sierra Leone, a post-conflict resource-poor country previously lacking an influenza monitoring system.
Sierra Leone utilized a systematic approach, including situational assessment, selection of sentinel sites, preparation of implementation plan, adaptation of the standard operating procedures, supervision and training of staff, and monitoring of influenza surveillance activities. The methods used in Sierra Leone were adapted to its specific context, using the Integrated Disease Surveillance and Response (IDSR) strategy as a platform for establishing ISS.
The ISS system started functioning in August 2011 with subsequent capacity to contribute surveillance activity data to global influenza databases, FluID and FluNet, demonstrating a functional influenza surveillance system in Sierra Leone within the period of the WHO SISA project support. Several factors were necessary for successful implementation, including a systematic approach, national ownership, appropriate timing and external support.
The WHO SISA project demonstrated the feasibility of building a functional influenza surveillance system in Sierra Leone, integrated into existing national IDSR system. The ISS system, if sustained long-term, would provide valuable data to determine epidemiological and virological patterns and seasonal trends to assess the influenza disease burden that will ultimately guide national control strategies.
The National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) in Nigeria was launched in 2005 as part of efforts by the federal government to achieve universal coverage using financial risk protection mechanisms. However, only 4% of the population, and mainly federal government employees, are currently covered by health insurance and this is primarily through the Formal Sector Social Health Insurance Programme (FSSHIP) of the NHIS. This study aimed to understand why different state (sub-national) governments decided whether or not to adopt the FSSHIP for their employees.
This study used a comparative case study approach. Data were collected through document reviews and 48 in-depth interviews with policy makers, programme managers, health providers, and civil servant leaders.
Although the programme’s benefits seemed acceptable to state policy makers and the intended beneficiaries (employees), the feasibility of employer contributions, concerns about transparency in the NHIS and the role of states in the FSSHIP, the roles of policy champions such as state governors and resistance by employees to making contributions, all influenced the decision of state governments on adoption. Overall, the power of state governments over state-level health reforms, attributed to the prevailing system of government that allows states to deliberate on certain national-level policies, enhanced by the NHIS legislation that made adoption voluntary, enabled states to adopt or not to adopt the program.
The study demonstrates and supports observations that even when the content of a programme is generally acceptable, context, actor roles, and the wider implications of programme design on actor interests can explain decision on policy adoption. Policy implementers involved in scaling-up the NHIS programme need to consider the prevailing contextual factors, and effectively engage policy champions to overcome known challenges in order to encourage adoption by sub-national governments. Policy makers and implementers in countries scaling-up health insurance coverage should, early enough, develop strategies to overcome political challenges inherent in the path to scaling-up, to avoid delay or stunting of the process. They should also consider the potential pitfalls of reforms that first focus on civil servants, especially when the use of public funds potentially compromises coverage for other citizens.
Case study; Health financing; Nigeria; Social health insurance; Universal coverage
The National Health Insurance Fund (NHIF), a compulsory formal sector scheme took over the management of the Community Health Fund (CHF), a voluntary informal sector scheme, in 2009. This study assesses the origins of the reform, its effect on management and reporting structures, financial flow adequacy, reform communication and acceptability to key stakeholders, and initial progress towards universal coverage.
The study relied on national data sources and an in-depth collective case study of a rural and an urban district to assess awareness and acceptability of the reform, and fund availability and use relative to need in a sample of facilities.
The reform was driven by a national desire to expand coverage and increase access to services. Despite initial delays, the CHF has been embedded within the NHIF organisational structure, bringing more intensive and qualified supervision closer to the district. National CHF membership has more than doubled. However, awareness of the reform was limited below the district level due to the reform’s top-down nature. The reform was generally acceptable to key stakeholders, who expected that benefits between schemes would be harmonised.
The reform was unable to institute changes to the CHF design or district management structures because it has so far been unable to change CHF legislation which also limits facility capacity to use CHF revenue. Further, revenue generated is currently insufficient to offset treatment and administration costs, and the reform did not improve the revenue to cost ratio. Administrative costs are also likely to have increased as a result of the reform.
Informal sector schemes can benefit from merger with formal sector schemes through improved data systems, supervision, and management support. However, effects will be maximised if legal frameworks can be harmonised early on and a reduction in administrative costs is not guaranteed.
Financing; Health insurance; Informal sector; Merger; Reform; Tanzania
The DECIDE framework was developed to support evidence-informed health system decisions through evidence summaries tailored to health policymakers. The objective of this study was to determine policymakers’ perceptions regarding the criteria in the DECIDE framework and how best to summarise and present evidence to support health system decisions.
We conducted an online survey of a diverse group of stakeholders with health system decision experience from 15 countries and the World Health Organization. We asked about perceptions of criteria relevant to making health system decisions, use of evidence, grading systems, and evidence summaries.
We received 112 responses (70% response rate). Most respondents had healthcare (85%) and research (79%) experience. They (99%) indicated that systematic consideration of the available evidence would help to improve health system decision-making processes and supported the use of evidence from other countries (94%) and grading systems (81%). All ten criteria in the DECIDE framework were rated as important in the decision-making process. Respondents had divergent views regarding whether the same (38%) or different (45%) grading systems should be used across different types of health decisions. All components of our evidence summary were rated as important by over 90% of respondents.
Survey respondents were supportive of the DECIDE framework for health system decisions and the use of succinct summaries of the estimated size of effects and the quality of evidence. It is uncertain whether the findings of this survey represent the views of policymakers with little or no healthcare and research experience.
Decide; Evidence summaries; Health system decisions
Whether and how research training programs contribute to research network development is underexplored. The Fogarty International Center (FIC) has supported overseas research training programs for over two decades. FIC programs could provide an entry point in the development of research networks and collaborations. We examine whether FIC’s investment in research training contributed to the development of networks and collaborations in two countries with longstanding FIC investments – Uganda and Kenya – and the factors which facilitated this process.
As part of two case studies at Uganda’s Makerere University and Kenya’s University of Nairobi, we conducted 53 semi-structured in-depth interviews and nine focus group discussions. To expand on our case study findings, we conducted a focused bibliometric analysis on two purposively selected topic areas to examine scientific productivity and used online network illustration tools to examine the resulting network structures.
FIC support made important contributions to network development. Respondents from both Uganda and Kenya confirmed that FIC programs consistently provided trainees with networking skills and exposure to research collaborations, primarily within the institutions implementing FIC programs. In both countries, networks struggled with inclusiveness, particularly in HIV/AIDS research. Ugandan respondents perceived their networks to be more cohesive than Kenyan respondents did. Network cohesiveness was positively correlated with the magnitude and longevity of FIC’s programs. Support from FIC grants to local and regional research network development and networking opportunities, such as conferences, was rare. Synergies between FIC programs and research grants helped to solidify and maintain research collaborations.
Networks developed where FIC’s programs focused on a particular institution, there was a critical mass of trainees with similar interests, and investments for network development were available from early implementation. Networks were less likely to emerge where FIC efforts were thinly scattered across multiple institutions. The availability of complementary research grants created opportunities for researchers to collaborate in grant writing, research implementation, and publications. FIC experiences in Uganda and Kenya showcase the important role of research training programs in creating and sustaining research networks. FIC programs should consider including support to research networks more systematically in their capacity development agenda.
Bibliometrics; Case study research; Collaborations; Global health; Kenya; Networks; Research capacity development; Research training; Uganda
Regardless of worries over clinical research and various initiatives to overcome problems, few quantitative data on the numbers and type of clinical research exist. This article aims to describe the volume and type of clinical research in 2002 and 2007 in Finland.
The research law in Finland requires all medical research to be submitted to regional ethics committees (RECs). Data from all new projects in 2002 and 2007 were collected from REC files and the characteristics of clinical projects (76% of all submissions) were analyzed.
The number of clinical projects was large, but declining: 794 in 2002 and 762 in 2007. Drug research (mainly trials) represented 29% and 34% of the clinical projects; their total number had not declined, but those without a commercial sponsor had. The number of different principal investigators was large (630 and 581). Most projects were observational, while an experimental design was used in 43% of projects. Multi-center studies were common. In half of the projects, the main funder was health care or was done as unpaid work; 31% had industry funding as the main source. There was a clear difference in the type of research by sponsorship. Industry-funded research was largely drug research, international multi-center studies, with randomized controlled or other experimental design. The findings for the two years were similar, but a university hospital as the main research site became less common between 2002 and 2007.
Clinical research projects were common, but numbers are declining; research was largely funded by health care, with many physicians involved. Drug trials were a minority, even though most research promotion efforts and regulation concerns them.
Clinical research; Drug trials; Finland; Sponsoring
In 2007 Timor-Leste, a malaria endemic country, changed its Malaria Treatment Protocol for uncomplicated falciparum malaria from sulphadoxine-pyrimethamine to artemether-lumefantrine. The change in treatment policy was based on the rise in morbidity due to malaria and perception of increasing drug resistance. Despite a lack of nationally available evidence on drug resistance, the Ministry of Health decided to change the protocol. The policy process leading to this change was examined through a qualitative study on how the country developed its revised treatment protocol for malaria. This process involved many actors and was led by the Timor-Leste Ministry of Health and the WHO country office. This paper examines the challenges and opportunities identified during this period of treatment protocol change.
Evidence; Malaria treatment; Policy formulation; Policy process; Timor-Leste; Treatment protocol
This article reports on the impact assessment experience of a funding program of non-commercial clinical and health services research. The aim was to assess the level of implementation of results from a subgroup of research projects (on respiratory diseases), and to detect barriers (or facilitators) in the translation of new knowledge to informed decision-making.
A qualitative study was performed. The sample consisted of six projects on respiratory diseases funded by the Agency for Health Quality and Assessment of Catalonia between 1996 and 2004. Semi-structured interviews to key informants including researchers and healthcare decision-makers were carried out. Interviews were recorded, transcribed verbatim and analysed on an individual (key informant) and group (project) basis. In addition, the differences between achieved and expected impacts were described.
Twenty-three semi-structured interviews were conducted. Most participants indicated changes in health services or clinical practice had resulted from research. The channels used to transfer new knowledge were mainly conventional ones, but also in less explicit ways, such as with the involvement of local scientific societies, or via debates and discussions with colleagues and local leaders. The barriers and facilitators identified were mostly organizational (in research management, and clinical and healthcare practice), although there were also some related to the nature of the research as well as personal factors. Both the expected and achieved impacts enabled the identification of the gaps between what is expected and what is truly achieved.
In this study and according to key informants, the impact of these research projects on decision-making can be direct (the application of a finding or innovation) or indirect, contributing to a more complex change in clinical practice and healthcare organization, both having other contextual factors. The channels used to transfer this new knowledge to clinical practice are complex. Local scientific societies and the relationships between researchers and decision-makers can play a very important role. Specifically, the relationships between managers and research teams and the mutual knowledge of their activity have shown to be effective in applying research funding to practice and decision-making. Finally the facilitating factors and barriers identified by the respondents are closely related to the idiosyncrasy of the human relations between the different stakeholders involved.
Informed decision-making; Qualitative research; Research impact; Respiratory diseases; Payback model
The main aim of China’s Health Care System Reform was to help the decision maker find the optimal solution to China’s institutional problem of health care provider selection. A pilot health care provider research system was recently organized in China’s health care system, and it could efficiently collect the data for determining the optimal solution to China’s institutional problem of health care provider selection from various experts, then the purpose of this study was to apply the optimal implementation methodology to help the decision maker effectively promote various experts’ views into various optimal solutions to this problem under the support of this pilot system.
After the general framework of China’s institutional problem of health care provider selection was established, this study collaborated with the National Bureau of Statistics of China to commission a large-scale 2009 to 2010 national expert survey (n = 3,914) through the organization of a pilot health care provider research system for the first time in China, and the analytic network process (ANP) implementation methodology was adopted to analyze the dataset from this survey.
The market-oriented health care provider approach was the optimal solution to China’s institutional problem of health care provider selection from the doctors’ point of view; the traditional government’s regulation-oriented health care provider approach was the optimal solution to China’s institutional problem of health care provider selection from the pharmacists’ point of view, the hospital administrators’ point of view, and the point of view of health officials in health administration departments; the public private partnership (PPP) approach was the optimal solution to China’s institutional problem of health care provider selection from the nurses’ point of view, the point of view of officials in medical insurance agencies, and the health care researchers’ point of view.
The data collected through a pilot health care provider research system in the 2009 to 2010 national expert survey could help the decision maker effectively promote various experts’ views into various optimal solutions to China’s institutional problem of health care provider selection.
Analytic network process; China’s Health Care System Reform; Decision maker; Economy; Effectiveness; Efficiency; Equity; Experts’ views; Health care provider research system; Health care provider selection; Institutional problem
South Africa’s expenditure on tuberculosis (TB) research and development (R&D) is insignificant relative to both its disease burden and the expenditure of some comparator countries with a minimal TB incidence. In 2010, the country had the second highest TB incidence rate in the world (796 per 100,000 population), and the third highest number of new TB cases (490,000 or 6% of the global total). Although it has a large TB treatment program (about $588 million per year), TB R&D funding is small both in absolute terms and relative to its total R&D expenditure. Given the risk and the high cost associated with drug discovery R&D, such neglect may make strategic sense. However in this analysis it is shown that TB R&D presents a unique opportunity to the national treasuries of all high-burden countries. Using two separate estimation methods (global justice and return on investment), it is concluded that most countries, including South Africa, are under-investing in TB R&D. Specific investment targets for a range of countries, particularly in areas of applied research, are developed. This work supports the outcome of the World Health Organization’s Consultative Expert Working Group on Research and Development: Financing and Coordination, which has called for “a process leading to the negotiation of a binding agreement on R&D relevant to the health needs of developing countries”.
Despite the recent rapid development of policies to counteract physical inactivity (PI), only a small number of systematic analyses on the evolution of these policies exists. In this article we analyze how PI, as a public health issue, “translates” into a policy-making issue. First, we discuss why PI has become an increasingly important public health issue during the last two decades. We then follow Guy Peters and conceptualize PI as a “policy problem” that has the potential to be linked to policy instruments and policy impact. Analysis indicates that PI is a policy problem that i) is chronic in nature; ii) involves a high degree of political complexity; iii) can be disaggregated into smaller scales; iv) is addressed through interventions that can be difficult to “sell” to the public when their benefits are not highly divisible; v) cannot be solved by government spending alone; vi) must be addressed through a broad scope of activities; and vii) involves interdependencies among both multiple sectors and levels of government.
We conclude that the new perspective on PI proposed in this article might be useful and important for i) describing and mapping policies to counteract PI in different contexts; ii) evaluating whether or not existing policy instruments are appropriate to the policy problem of PI, and iii) explaining the factors and processes that underlie policy development and implementation. More research is warranted in all these areas. In particular, we propose to focus on comparative analyses of how the problem of PI is defined and tackled in different contexts, and on the identification of truly effective policy instruments that are designed to “solve” the PI policy problem.
Context analysis; Health promotion; Physical activity; Policy problem; Policy process; Public health
Health research is crucial to understand a country’s needs and to improve health outcomes. We conducted a scoping review and analysis of existing health data in Timor-Leste to identify the health research priorities of the country. Published and unpublished health research in Timor-Leste from 2001 to 2011 that reported objectives, methods and results were identified. Key findings were triangulated with data from national surveys and the Health Management Information System; 114 eligible articles were included in the analysis, the leading topics of which were communicable (malaria, tuberculosis, HIV and sexually transmitted diseases and dengue) and non-communicable (eye and mental health) diseases. There were 28 papers (25%) on safe motherhood, child health and nutrition, of which 20 (71%) were unpublished. The review of national indicators showed high infant, under-five and maternal mortality rates. Burden of disease is greatest in young children, with respiratory infections, febrile illnesses and diarrheal disease predominating. There is poor access to and utilization of health care. Childhood malnutrition is an important unresolved national health issue. There are several obstacles leading to under-utilization of health services. The following topics for future health research are suggested from the review: nutrition, safe motherhood, childhood illness (in particular identifying the causes and cause-specific burden of severe respiratory, febrile and diarrheal diseases) and access to and use of health services.
Timor-Leste; East Timor; Health management information system; Health research
The AIDS Control Program (ACP) in Uganda has spearheaded the national health sector HIV response for the last three decades. ACP has developed, revised and implemented various HIV prevention, care and treatment policies in order to keep interventions relevant to the changing dynamics of the HIV epidemic. However, the ACP team and partners remain concerned about the lengthy policy development processes. This study documented the policy development and revision processes to identify strengths and weaknesses in order to inform adjustments as Uganda embraces the move to ‘zero’ HIV infections.
Data was collected through a review of the relevant policy documents and key informant interviews with the five program officers involved in the recently developed Safe Male Circumcision (SMC) policy and the recently revised HIV Counseling and Testing (HCT) policy. Qualitative data was analyzed manually using pre-determined themes.
Development and revision of the SMC and HCT policies followed similar processes that included a series of meetings between senior management and a selected technical working group. However, the gaps included: i) inadequate awareness of the existence of national policy development and management guidelines; ii) limited engagement of the policy analysis unit in the policy development/revision processes; iii) inadequate tracking and evaluation of the policies before revision or development of new related policies; iv) lack of specific protocols/standard operating procedures (SOPs); and, v) limited indigenous funding for the entire policy development processes which contributed to non-adherence to the anticipated timelines.
Policy development and revision of the SMC and HCT policies followed similar processes. Gaps identified included lack of protocols/SOPs for the processes and limited indigenous funding to support adherence to anticipated timelines. We recommend active involvement of the policy analysis unit in all policy processes. Specific protocols/SOPs for development, analysis, revision, implementation, monitoring, evaluation and impact assessment processes should be developed prior to commencement of the activities.
Health policy; Policy development; Policy processes; Policy revision
Society expects politicians to make sound decisions by bringing the best evidence to bear on the health problems in question. Performing this task requires access to independent sources of sound scientific advice. The European Science Advisory Network for Health (EuSANH) is a network of national science advisory bodies in Europe which are active in the field of health and provide independent scientific advice to their authorities. The EuSANH addressed this question in a European project.
Guidelines and principles for producing sound advice have been formulated after international comparative evaluations and extensive discussions among participants of the EuSANH-ISA project with input from international experts.
A framework for scientific advice on health has been produced.
This framework will ensure a uniform approach and thus opens possibilities for collaboration between science advisory bodies.
European science advisory network for health; Guidelines; Methodology; Policy; Scientific advice
Intervention research provides important information regarding feasible and effective interventions for health policy makers, but few empirical studies have explored the mechanisms by which these studies influence policy and practice. This study provides an exploratory case series analysis of the policy, practice and other related impacts of the 15 research projects funded through the New South Wales Health Promotion Demonstration Research Grants Scheme during the period 2000 to 2006, and explored the factors mediating impacts.
Data collection included semi-structured interviews with the chief investigators (n = 17) and end-users (n = 29) of each of the 15 projects to explore if, how and under what circumstances the findings had been used, as well as bibliometric analysis and verification using documentary evidence. Data analysis involved thematic coding of interview data and triangulation with other data sources to produce case summaries of impacts for each project. Case summaries were then individually assessed against four impact criteria and discussed at a verification panel meeting where final group assessments of the impact of research projects were made and key influences of research impact identified.
Funded projects had variable impacts on policy and practice. Project findings were used for agenda setting (raising awareness of issues), identifying areas and target groups for interventions, informing new policies, and supporting and justifying existing policies and programs across sectors. Reported factors influencing the use of findings were: i) nature of the intervention; ii) leadership and champions; iii) research quality; iv) effective partnerships; v) dissemination strategies used; and, vi) contextual factors.
The case series analysis provides new insights into how and under what circumstances intervention research is used to influence real world policy and practice. The findings highlight that intervention research projects can achieve the greatest policy and practice impacts if they address proximal needs of the policy context by engaging end-users from the inception of projects and utilizing existing policy networks and structures, and using a range of strategies to disseminate findings that go beond traditional peer review publications.
Government; Health promotion; Intervention research; Policy
There is growing interest by funding bodies and researchers in assessing the impact of research on real world policy and practice. Population health monitoring surveys provide an important source of data on the prevalence and patterns of health problems, but few empirical studies have explored if and how such data is used to influence policy or practice decisions. Here we provide a case study analysis of how the findings from an Australian population monitoring survey series of children’s weight and weight-related behaviors (Schools Physical Activity and Nutrition Survey (SPANS)) have been used, and the key facilitators and barriers to their utilization.
Data collection included semi-structured interviews with the chief investigators (n = 3) and end-users (n = 9) of SPANS data to explore if, how and under what circumstances the survey findings had been used, bibliometric analysis and verification using documentary evidence. Data analysis involved thematic coding of interview data and triangulation with other data sources to produce case summaries of policy and practice impacts for each of the three survey years (1997, 2004, 2010). Case summaries were then reviewed and discussed by the authors to distil key themes on if, how and why the SPANS findings had been used to guide policy and practice.
We found that the survey findings were used for agenda setting (raising awareness of issues), identifying areas and target groups for interventions, informing new policies, and supporting and justifying existing policies and programs across a range of sectors. Reported factors influencing use of the findings were: i) the perceived credibility of survey findings; ii) dissemination strategies used; and, iii) a range of contextual factors.
Using a novel approach, our case study provides important new insights into how and under what circumstances population health monitoring data can be used to influence real world policy and practice. The findings highlight the importance of population monitoring programs being conducted by independent credible agencies, researchers engaging end-users from the inception of survey programs and utilizing existing policy networks and structures, and using a range of strategies to disseminate the findings that go beyond traditional peer review publications.
Government; Policy; Population health; Research