Implementing People-Centred Health Systems Governance in 3 Provinces and 11 Districts of Afghanistan: A Case Study
Previous studies show that health systems governance influences health system performance and health outcomes. However, there are few examples of how to implement and monitor good governing practices in fragile and conflict affected environments. Good governance has the potential to make the health system people-centered. More research is needed on implementing a people-centered governance approach in these environments.
We piloted an intervention that placed a people-centred health systems governance approach in the hands of multi-stakeholder committees that govern provincial and district health systems. We report the results of this intervention from three provinces and eleven districts in Afghanistan over a six month period. This mixed-methods exploratory case study uses analysis of governance self-assessment scores, health management information system data on health system performance, and focus group discussions. The outcomes of interest are governance scores and health system performance indicators.
We document the application of a people-centred health systems governance conceptual model based on applying four effective governing practices: cultivating accountability, engaging with stakeholders, setting a shared strategic direction, and stewarding resources responsibly. We present a participatory approach where health system leaders identify and act on opportunities for making themselves and their health systems more accountable and responsive to the needs of the communities they serve.
Discussion and evaluation
We found that health systems governance can be improved in fragile and conflict affected environments, and that consistent application of the effective governing practices is key to improving governance. Intervention was associated with a 20% increase in antenatal care visit rate in pilot provinces. Focus group discussions showed improvements across the four governing practices, including: establishment of new sub-committees that oversee financial transparency and governance, collaboration with diverse stakeholders, sharper focus on community health needs, more frequent presentation of service delivery data, and increased use of data for decision making.
Our findings have implications for policy and practice within and beyond Afghanistan. Governance is central to making health systems responsive to the needs of people who access and provide services. We provide a practical approach to improving health systems governance in fragile and conflict affected environments.