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      Decentralization of the health system – experiences from Pakistan, Portugal and Brazil


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          Decentralization of a health system is a complex and multidimensional phenomenon that demands thorough investigation of its process logistics, predisposing factors and implementation mechanisms, within the broader socio-political environment of each nation. Despite its wide adoption across both high-income countries (HICs) and low-and-middle-income countries (LMICs), empirical evidence of whether decentralization actually translates into improved health system performance remains inconclusive and controversial. This paper aims to provide a comprehensive description of the decentralization processes in three countries at different stages of their decentralization strategies – Pakistan, Brazil and Portugal.

          Main body

          This study employed a systematic analysis of peer-reviewed academic journals, official government reports, policy documents and publications from international organizations related to health system decentralization. A comprehensive search was conducted using reputable databases such as PubMed, Google Scholar, the WHO repository and other relevant databases, covering the period up to the knowledge cutoff date in June 2023. Information was systematically extracted and organized into the determinants, process mechanics and challenges encountered during the planning, implementation and post-decentralization phases. Although decentralization reforms have achieved some success, challenges persist in their implementation. Comparing all three countries, it was evident that all three have prioritized health in their decentralization reforms and aimed to enhance local decision-making power. Brazil has made significant progress in implementing decentralization reforms, while Portugal and Pakistan are still in the process. Pakistan has faced significant implementation challenges, including capacity-building, resource allocation, resistance to change and inequity in access to care. Brazil and Portugal have also faced challenges, but to a lesser extent. The extent, progress and challenges in the decentralization processes vary among the three countries, each requiring ongoing evaluation and improvement to achieve the desired outcomes.


          Notable differences exist in the extent of decentralization, the challenges faced during implementation and inequality in access to care between the three countries. It is important for Portugal, Brazil and Pakistan to address these through reinforcing implementation strategies, tackling inequalities in access to care and enhancing monitoring and evaluation mechanism. Additionally, fostering knowledge sharing among these different countries will be instrumental in facilitating mutual learning.

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          Most cited references44

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          Brazil's unified health system: the first 30 years and prospects for the future

          In 1988, the Brazilian Constitution defined health as a universal right and a state responsibility. Progress towards universal health coverage in Brazil has been achieved through a unified health system (Sistema Único de Saúde [SUS]), created in 1990. With successes and setbacks in the implementation of health programmes and the organisation of its health system, Brazil has achieved nearly universal access to health-care services for the population. The trajectory of the development and expansion of the SUS offers valuable lessons on how to scale universal health coverage in a highly unequal country with relatively low resources allocated to health-care services by the government compared with that in middle-income and high-income countries. Analysis of the past 30 years since the inception of the SUS shows that innovations extend beyond the development of new models of care and highlights the importance of establishing political, legal, organisational, and management-related structures, with clearly defined roles for both the federal and local governments in the governance, planning, financing, and provision of health-care services. The expansion of the SUS has allowed Brazil to rapidly address the changing health needs of the population, with dramatic upscaling of health service coverage in just three decades. However, despite its successes, analysis of future scenarios suggests the urgent need to address lingering geographical inequalities, insufficient funding, and suboptimal private sector-public sector collaboration. Fiscal policies implemented in 2016 ushered in austerity measures that, alongside the new environmental, educational, and health policies of the Brazilian government, could reverse the hard-earned achievements of the SUS and threaten its sustainability and ability to fulfil its constitutional mandate of providing health care for all.
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            The Brazilian health system: history, advances, and challenges.

            Brazil is a country of continental dimensions with widespread regional and social inequalities. In this report, we examine the historical development and components of the Brazilian health system, focusing on the reform process during the past 40 years, including the creation of the Unified Health System. A defining characteristic of the contemporary health sector reform in Brazil is that it was driven by civil society rather than by governments, political parties, or international organisations. The advent of the Unified Health System increased access to health care for a substantial proportion of the Brazilian population, at a time when the system was becoming increasingly privatised. Much is still to be done if universal health care is to be achieved. Over the past 20 years, there have been other advances, including investments in human resources, science and technology, and primary care, and a substantial decentralisation process, widespread social participation, and growing public awareness of a right to health care. If the Brazilian health system is to overcome the challenges with which it is presently faced, strengthened political support is needed so that financing can be restructured and the roles of both the public and private sector can be redefined. Copyright © 2011 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
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              Framework for assessing governance of the health system in developing countries: gateway to good governance.

              Governance is thought to be a key determinant of economic growth, social advancement and overall development, as well as for the attainment of the MDGs in low- and middle-income countries. Governance of the health system is the least well-understood aspect of health systems. A framework for assessing health system governance (HSG) at national and sub-national levels is presented, which has been applied in countries of the Eastern Mediterranean. In developing the HSG framework key issues considered included the role of the state vs. the market; role of the ministries of health vs. other state ministries; role of actors in governance; static vs. dynamic health systems; and health reform vs. human rights-based approach to health. Four existing frameworks were considered: World Health Organization's (WHO) domains of stewardship; Pan American Health Organization's (PAHO) essential public health functions; World Bank's six basic aspects of governance; and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) principles of good governance. The proposed HSG assessment framework includes the following 10 principles-strategic vision, participation and consensus orientation, rule of law, transparency, responsiveness, equity and inclusiveness, effectiveness and efficiency, accountability, intelligence and information, and ethics. The framework permits 'diagnoses of the ills' in HSG at the policy and operational levels and points to interventions for its improvement. In the case of Pakistan, where the framework was applied, a positive aspect was the growing participation and consensus orientation among stakeholders, while weaknesses were identified in relation to strategic vision, accountability, transparency, effectiveness and efficiency and rule of law. In using the HSG framework it needs to be recognized that the principles are value driven and not normative and are to be seen in the social and political context; and the framework relies on a qualitative approach and does not follow a scoring or ranking system. It does not directly address aid effectiveness but provides insight on the ability to utilize external resources and has the ability to include the effect of global health governance on national HSG as the subject itself gets better crystallized. The improved performance of the ministries of health and state health departments is at the heart of this framework. The framework helps raise the level of awareness among policymakers of the importance of HSG. The road to good governance in health is long and uneven. Assessing HSG is only the first step; the challenge that remains is to carry out effective governance in vastly different institutional contexts.

                Author and article information

                Health Res Policy Syst
                Health Res Policy Syst
                Health Research Policy and Systems
                BioMed Central (London )
                27 May 2024
                27 May 2024
                : 22
                : 61
                [1 ]Community Health Sciences, The Aga Khan University, ( https://ror.org/03gd0dm95) Karachi, Pakistan
                [2 ]NOVA National School of Public Health, Public Health Research Centre, Comprehensive Health Research Center (CHRC), NOVA University Lisbon, ( https://ror.org/01c27hj86) Lisbon, Portugal
                [3 ]Federal University of Espirito Santo, ( https://ror.org/05sxf4h28) Vitoria, ES Brazil
                [4 ]Unidade de Saúde Pública Zé Povinho, ACES Oeste Norte, Caldas da Rainha, Portugal
                Author information
                © The Author(s) 2024

                Open Access This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article's Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article's Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/) applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated in a credit line to the data.

                : 28 July 2023
                : 25 April 2024
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                © BioMed Central Ltd., part of Springer Nature 2024

                Health & Social care
                decentralization,health sector reform,performance of health systems,lmics,developed country


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