The African Health Initiative (AHI) will be presenting a second panel During the upcoming Third Global Symposium on Health Systems Research in Cape Town (30 September-3 October), entitled “Achieving People Centered Health Systems in Five African Countries: Lessons from the African Health Initiative.”
AHI was established in 2008 by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and seeks to catalyze significant advances in strengthening health systems by supporting partnerships that will design, implement and evaluate large-scale models of care that link implementation research and workforce training directly to the delivery of integrated primary healthcare in sub-Saharan Africa.
The five AHI country projects (Ghana, Mozambique, Rwanda, Tanzania and Zambia) will be sharing their experiences during the panel presentation. We will be tweeting at each panel presentation, and you can follow at: #HSG2014 and “Health Systems Global” and “Bill Brieger Malaria“.
Highlights of the second panel follow:
It is a common claim that randomized controlled trials (RCT) are the ‘gold standard’ for scientific inference, with rigor derived from the imposition of stable interventions and statistically robust controls, and power derived from operational units as study observations. In health systems research, however, the ‘gold standard’ is more appropriately based on the relevance of research to decision-making. As a consequence, impact research is appropriately combined with implementation research, and units of observation are based on the way that systems function and decisions are made.
Mixed method complexity trials are indicated, with units of observation that integrate research with management processes. Presentations by scientists who are engaged in complexity trials in Ghana, Mozambique, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Zambia will highlight statistical designs that violate conventional standards of RCT, but derive rigor from mixed method research, hierarchical observation and modeling, and plausibility trials.
“Proof of utility” is derived from the operational adaptation of project implementation to local realities, monitoring process and outputs, testing impact, and revising strategies over time as needed. A learning process approach produces evidence-generating localities where operations serve as realistic models for large scale change in national systems.
Various terms used in the scientific literature to characterize this theme, such as ‘open systems theory’, the strategic approach, or participatory planning, each embracing the perspective that people centered service systems are essential to health systems strengthening. Practical examples of how to achieve people centered programming, however, are rare.
This panel presents five case studies that have confronted the challenge of developing, testing, and sustaining people-centered health systems in resource constrained settings of sub-Saharan Africa. These are outlined below.
– The Ghana Essential Health Interventions Programme tests the child survival impact system strengthening interventions. When monitoring identified perinatal health problems, priority was shifted to improving newborn and emergency referral services. Combined with political advocacy, changes increased access, improved quality, and expanded the range of services.
– The Mozambique project improves service quality by giving facility, district and provincial managers skills for identifying and fixing systems problems. Initial skills-building through training in leadership and management had only transitory effects. An evidence-driven redesign improved facility and district level operations and improved accountability.
– In Rwanda health-center-focused quality improvement data identified strategies for compensating health centers for reaching specific operational goals. Initial results show that the scheme has enhanced performance and fostered cross-center learning.
– The Tanzania Connect Project tests the survival impact of deploying community health workers. Connect monitoring showed that unmet need for family planning was inadequately addressed. Connect was redesigned to include comprehensive doorstep family planning services.
– Zambia’s Better Health Care Outcomes through Mentorship and Assessment project was developed from people centered lessons emerging from scaling up an HIV program. A 42 cluster stepped wedge tests the impact of improving outpatient care with training, structured forms, electronic data capture, and community engagement. In response to implementation challenges, volunteer density was increased and mortality and clinical data capture operations were reformed.
While the studies employ contrasting designs, the projects share an adaptive approach to implementation. A concluding session summarizes lessons learned and implications for health systems strengthening in Africa.