Cahiers d'études et de recherches francophones / Santé


Leadership and vision in the improvement of universal health care coverage in low-income countries Volume 21, issue 3, Juil-Août-Sept


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Ministère de la Santé District sanitaire de Orodara Burkina Faso, Institut de médecine tropicale département de santé publique Anvers Belgique, Recherche et système d’information de la gestion sanitaire (DRSIS) à l’Organisation ouest-africaine de la santé (OOAS) Institut supérieur des sciences de la santé Bobo Dioulasso Burkina Faso

In Burkina Faso, as in most developing countries, the operational level of the health system is made up of Health Districts (HDs), the activities of which are typically coordinated by the District Team (DT). Assessing the the core functions of DTs, as described by WHO, shows two important weaknesses. Firstly, instructions from “above” are often implemented rather passively: DTs tend not to display much leadership. Secondly, the current organisation, based on input financing and centralised planning, does not sufficiently promote either the vision or research functions of DTs. In this article, we report our experience in the Orodora HD in Burkina Faso, where the DT's leadership and vision proved to be essential ingredients for effective health action in the district. Our description of six interventions implemented between 2004 and 2008 shows how DT leadership and vision have improved outputs at the HD level. Until 2004, the district applied static health planning. The health system was insufficiently financed and performed poorly. Faced with this situation, the DT decided to set up several priority interventions based on health care access criteria and patient concerns, while respecting and contextualizing national norms and objectives. Six interventions were then implemented. The first was ensure that quality blood (meeting transfusion security norms) was available at the District Hospital (DH), by picking blood up from the regional blood transfusion center weekly. This speeded up care at the DH, reduced the number of cases referred to the regional hospital for transfusion, and reduced neonatal and maternal mortality. The second intervention sought to improve the skills of health workers in managing emergency cases and to improve relationships with the referral hospital through the reintroduction of counter-referral procedures. This led to a decrease in unnecessary referrals and also reduced the mortality rates of serious cases. The third intervention, by implementing a decentralized approach to tuberculosis detection, succeeded in improving access to care and enabled us to quantify the rate of tuberculosis-HIV co-infection in the HD. The fourth intervention improved financial access to emergency obstetric care by providing essential drugs and consumables for emergency obstetric surgery free of charge. The fifth intervention boosted the motivation of health workers by an annual ‘competition of excellence’, organised for workers and teams in the HD. Finally, our sixth intervention was the introduction of a “culture” of evaluation and transparency, by means of a local health journal, used to interact with stakeholders both at the local level and in the health sector more broadly. We also present our experiences regularly during national health science symposia. Although the DT operates with limited resources, it has over time managed to improve care and services in the HD, through its dynamic management and strategic planning. It has reduced inpatient mortality and improved access to care, particularly for vulnerable groups, in line with the Primary Health Care and Bamako Initiative principles. This case study would have benefited from a stronger methodology. However, it shows that in a context of limited resources it is still possible to strengthen the local health system by improving management practices. To progress towards universal health coverage, all core functions of a DT are worth implementing, including leadership and vision. National and international health strategies should thus include a plan to provide for and train local health system managers who can provide both leadership and strategic vision.