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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.