The Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) has focused its attention on appraising health development assistance projects and redirecting efforts towards health system strengthening. This study aimed to describe the type of project and targets of interest, and assess the contribution of JICA health-related projects to strengthening health systems worldwide.
We collected a web-based Project Design Matrix (PDM) of 105 JICA projects implemented between January 2005 and December 2009. We developed an analytical matrix based on the World Health Organization (WHO) health system framework to examine the PDM data and thereby assess the projects’ contributions to health system strengthening.
The majority of JICA projects had prioritized workforce development, and improvements in governance and service delivery. Conversely, there was little assistance for finance or medical product development. The vast majority (87.6%) of JICA projects addressed public health issues, for example programs to improve maternal and child health, and the prevention and treatment of infectious diseases such as AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. Nearly 90% of JICA technical healthcare assistance directly focused on improving governance as the most critical means of accomplishing its goals.
Our study confirmed that JICA projects met the goals of bilateral cooperation by developing workforce capacity and governance. Nevertheless, our findings suggest that JICA assistance could be used to support financial aspects of healthcare systems, which is an area of increasing concern. We also showed that the analytical matrix methodology is an effective means of examining the component of health system strengthening to which the activity and output of a project contributes. This may help policy makers and practitioners focus future projects on priority areas.