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Learning Health Systems to Bridge the Evidence-Policy-Practice Gap in Primary Health Care: Lessons From the African Health Initiative

September 15, 2022

The authors provide a brief history of the African Health Initiative and introduce the articles of the Global Health: Science and Practice journal supplement, highlighting the importance of evidence-based interventions (EBI) in global health and summarizing key takeaways.

Using Health Systems and Policy Research to Achieve Universal Health Coverage in Ghana

September 15, 2022

Ghana is positioned to become the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to implement universal health coverage based on nationwide expansion of geographic access through the Community-based Health Planning and Services initiative. This achievement is the outcome of 3 decades of implementation research that health authorities have used for guiding the development of its primary health care program. This implementation research process has comprised Ghana's official endorsement of the 1978 Alma Ata Declaration, leading to the institutionalization of evidence relevant to the strategic design of primary health care and national health insurance policies and services. Rather than relying solely upon the dissemination of project results, Ghana has embraced a continuous and systemic process of knowledge capture, curation, and utilization of evidence in expanding geographic access by a massive expansion in the number of community health service points that has taken decades. A multisectoral approach has been pursued that has involved the creation of systematic partnerships that included all levels of the political system, local development officials, community groups and social networks, multiple university-based disciplines, external development partners, and donors. However, efforts to achieve high levels of financial access through the roll-out of the National Health Insurance Scheme have proceeded at a less consistent pace and been fraught with many challenges. As a result, financial access has been less comprehensive than geographical access despite sequential reforms having been made to both programs. The legacy of activities and current research on primary health care and national health insurance are reviewed together with unaddressed priorities that merit attention in the future. Factors that have facilitated or impeded progress with research utilization are reviewed and implications for health systems strengthening in Ghana and elsewhere in Africa and globally are discussed.

Approaches to Ensuring and Improving Quality in the Context of Health System Strengthening: a Cross-site Analysis of the five African Health Initiative Partnership Programs

May 15, 2013

Background: Integrated into the work in health systems strengthening (HSS) is a growing focus on the importance of ensuring quality of the services delivered and systems which support them. Understanding how to define and measure quality in the different key World Health Organization building blocks is critical to providing the information needed to address gaps and identify models for replication.Description of approaches: We describe the approaches to defining and improving quality across the five country programs funded through the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation African Health Initiative. While each program has independently developed and implemented country-specific approaches to strengthening health systems, they all included quality of services and systems as a core principle. We describe the differences and similarities across the programs in defining and improving quality as an embedded process essential for HSS to achieve the goal of improved population health. The programs measured quality across most or all of the six WHO building blocks, with specific areas of overlap in improving quality falling into four main categories: 1) defining and measuring quality; 2) ensuring data quality, and building capacity for data use for decision making and response to quality measurements; 3) strengthened supportive supervision and/or mentoring; and 4) operational research to understand the factors associated with observed variation in quality.Conclusions: Learning the value and challenges of these approaches to measuring and improving quality across the key components of HSS as the projects continue their work will help inform similar efforts both now and in the future to ensure quality across the critical components of a health system and the impact on population health.

The Ghana Essential Health Interventions Program: a Plausibility Trial of the Impact of Health Systems Strengthening on Maternal & Child Survival (Study Protocol)

May 15, 2013

Background: During the 1990s, researchers at the Navrongo Health Research Centre in northern Ghana developeda highly successful community health program. The keystone of the Navrongo approach was the deployment of nurses termed community health officers to village locations. A trial showed that, compared to areas relying on existing services alone, the approach reduced child mortality by half, maternal mortality by 40%, and fertility by nearly a birth -- from a total fertility rate of 5.5 in only five years. In 2000, the government of Ghana launched a national program called Community-based Health Planning and Services (CHPS) to scale up the Navrongo model. However, CHPS scale-up has been slow in districts located outside of the Upper East Region, where the "Navrongo Experiment" was first carried out. This paper describes the Ghana Essential Health Intervention Project (GEHIP), a plausibility trial of strategies for strengthening CHPS, especially in the areas of maternal and newborn health, and generating the political will to scale up the program with strategies that are faithful to the original design. Description of the intervention: GEHIP improves the CHPS model by 1) extending the range and quality of services for newborns; 2) training community volunteers to conduct the World Health Organization service regimen known as integrated management of childhood illness (IMCI); 3) simplifying the collection of health management information and ensuring its use for decision making; 4) enabling community health nurses to manage emergencies, particularly obstetric complications and refer cases without delay; 5) adding $0.85 per capita annually to district budgets and marshalling grassroots political commitment to financing CHPS implementation; and 6) strengthening CHPS leadership at all levels of the system. Evaluation design: GEHIP impact is assessed by conducting baseline and endline survey research and computing the Heckman "difference in difference" test for under-5 mortality in three intervention districts relative to four comparison districts for core indicators of health status and survival rates. To elucidate results, hierarchical child survival hazard models will be estimated that incorporate measures of health system strength as survival determinants, adjusting for the potentially confounding effects of parental and household characteristics. Qualitative systems appraisal procedures will be used to monitor and explain GEHIP implementation innovations, constraints, and progress. Discussion: By demonstrating practical means of strengthening a real-world health system while monitoring costs and assessing maternal and child survival impact, GEHIP is expected to contribute to national health policy, planning, and resource allocation that will be needed to accelerate progress with the Millennium Development Goals.