From 24 to 27 September 2012, Financial Access to Health Services Community of Practice organized, in collaboration with the Ministry of Health of Morocco and JLN network, a workshop in Marrakech. In this blogpost, three members of FA CoP get back on the event. This blog post was also published as an editorial in the journal “Global Health Promotion”.
While most everyone today agrees that countries should begin moving toward universal health coverage (UHC), how to practically implement this worthy ambition remains less than clear. One of the major challenges is to strengthen equity in health financing, and more precisely, to improve access to healthcare for the poor. For many countries, particularly low-income countries, the access of the poorest to good quality health care remains a distant dream. If the problem of ensuring adequate resources is important, the issue of knowledge management is also crucial. The implementation of many initiatives is hindered by inadequate knowledge sharing, which leads to repeating the same errors in different places. Hence the idea to create effective platforms for the production and sharing of knowledge, known as communities of practice.
The ‘Financial Access to Health Services’ Community of Practice (CoP FAHS) is one such innovative effort in Africa. Its objective is to promote the exchange and coordination among actors working on the issue of health financing and access to care. This CoP also aims to promote better consideration and use of evidence in the policy-making process (1). It largely operates through virtual interactions among its 400 members, but also through periodic face-to-face encounters at workshops organized around specific themes.
In September 2012, a workshop organized by the CoP FAHS was held in Marrakech, in collaboration with the Joint Learning Network (JLN) for Universal Health Coverage (funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, among others) and with a strong partnership and investment from the Ministry of Health of Morocco. The purpose of this meeting was to bring together a wide range of actors, from policy makers, to scholars and implementers, as well as members of the JLN network or the CoP, to address a key issue for achieving universal health coverage (UHC): health coverage for the poorest.
Ninety participants, including 11 country delegations took part in the meeting that had a number of innovative aspects: bilingual (French- English), working groups between peer countries, flexible organization of the 3 days, and content constantly being adapted to the needs of participants. But the most remarkable innovation was undoubtedly the workshop’s organization of a field visit - with strong support from the Ministry of Health of Morocco - to three sites where RAMED is being implemented, the Medical Assistance Program for Moroccan citizens identified as ‘poor’ or ‘vulnerable’. This “hands-on” aspect of the workshop has fueled in-depth exchanges and reflections on the challenges faced by African countries in the implementation of pro-poor strategies and medical assistance. It also gave the host country the opportunity to obtain the views of an expert panel on the RAMED, a program which began the crucial phase of nationwide scale-up in April 2012.
Beyond such positive feedback, the workshop’s theme - how to reach the poorest - is revealing of the magnitude of the task facing the CoP in the near future if it is to truly unleash effective knowledge sharing that informs and shapes the policy-making process (2). The key challenge remains its capacity to open up an area of health that has traditionally operated in a silo; one that has had great difficulty in incorporating multisectoral approaches. Even the process of selecting participants for this workshop demonstrated this problem: there was an overrepresentation of personnel of the ministries responsible for public health, whereas the organizations of civil society and the private sector, as well as other administrative services involved in reaching the poorest were virtually absent.
This lack of heterogeneity has introduced a bias in the technocratic thinking on the issue of access to care for the poorest. If the technical problems - the resolution of which is necessary but not sufficient in our opinion - have been widely discussed (identification of the poor, registration of beneficiaries, funding assistance, etc.), the presence of actors working in other spheres not related to health, especially the representatives of the poorest themselves, was missing in the debate, making it impossible to face up to structural issues in which inequalities in access to health care and in access to public resources find their roots.
The issue of access to care for the poorest is a major challenge for African health systems in their ambition to reach the UHC. Disparities in access and use are indeed a reflection of power dynamics that perpetuate structural inequalities of distribution of resources within a society and generate social determinism to access to care. These processes have been particularly highlighted by the work of the Commission on Social Determinants of Health, through its Social Exclusion Knowledge Network (SEKN) (3). This determinism plays full even when alternative mechanisms of financing health care are implemented - exemption, grant, gratuity, etc. - and partly explains the mixed results produced by these initiatives (4), see also Health Inc Research Project. A more structural analysis and a multi-sectoral approach is needed to understand all of the issues relating to access to health care for the poor and provide an effective solution.
Challenges that must be met successfully by the CoP will therefore be to become available to other sectors, other actors beyond technicians and experts in the field of health. It is on the basis of this capacity of the CoP to open up that it will be in a position to make a difference and provide opportunities for its members to leave the debates yet too restricted to technical issues, and which often cause erratic political processes (5).
1. Meessen B, Kouanda S, Musango L, Richard F, Ridde V, Soucat A. Communities of practice: the missing link for knowledge management on implementation issues in low-income countries? Trop Med Int Health. 2011; 16(8): 1007–1014. doi:10.1111/j.1365-3156.2011.02794.x;
2. Groves T. Development of health systems and universal coverage should be evidence based, says WHO. BMJ. 2012; 345 (2): e7530–e7530. doi:10.1136/bmj.e7530;
3. Popay J. Understanding and tackling social exclusion. J Res Nurs. 2010; 15(4): 295–297. doi:10.1177/1744987110370529;
4. Babajanian B, Hagen-Zanker J. Social protection and social exclusion: an analytical framework to assess the links. London, UK: ODI; October 2012: 12. Retrieved from http://www.odi.org.uk/publications/6889-social-protection-social-exclusion-design-analytical-framework;
5. Mckee M, Balabanova D, Basu S, Ricciardi W, Stuckler D. Universal Health Coverage : A Quest for All Countries But under Threat in Some. Value in Health. 2012: 1–7. doi:10.1016/j.jval.2012.10.001;