Over the past 10 years the poorest countries, especially in Africa, have struggled with worsening economic conditions and reduced public finance for health services. Some governments have responded in a piecemeal fashion, reacting to internal and external pressures. Others have embarked on major reforms of various aspects of their health systems. This paper reviews two specific types of strategy that have been initiated by governments: reform of financing strategies, and reform of public sector organization and procedures. Particular attention is paid to the experience of introducing user fees, community financing and decentralization since these have been some of the most popular strategies. The paper describes the nature, objectives and extent of reforms. It then presents an evaluation framework related to the criteria of efficiency and equity, and evaluates current reform experience using this framework. It concludes that assessment of the potential impact of reforms on efficiency and equity is undermined by the limited duration of many reforms and the limited nature of existing evaluations. It is clear, however, that a policy package is required rather than implementation of isolated reform strategies, and that in order to design an effective policy package, more needs to be known about the implementation and operation of reforms–particularly with respect to the influence of context, actors and processes.
Health Policy (1995) 32 (1-3) 215-243 [doi:10.1016/0168-8510(95)00737-D]