In retrospect, some people say the Bamako agenda has rarely been properly implemented. In a post on this blog and in an article, Valery Ridde says we me be better abolishing the Bamako Initiative (it is of course a provocation). How do you view the implementation of the Bamako principles until now?
Absolutely. I think this initiative died a long time ago. I think some of the principles are still incredibly valid and some of the problems it was trying to address also still exist. The problem of public accountability and people participation in the management of their health system should be have been better addressed with more democracy but still, it is left unattended in many African countries. The problem of out-of-pocket expenditures with no rules is also still extremely valid. We can call it Bamako Initiative or we can call it the way we want, it does not really matter: some of the problems which the Bamako was trying to address are still there and some of the experiences and principles (some have been applied and some have been badly applied) are still very relevant. But as an initiative, no, I do not think there is such thing as a Bamako Initiative alive at the moment. At least I have not seen anything.
Would you agree with Susan Rifkin who says that the Bamako Initiative has widened the horizons of community participation? Do you see the current shift from community participation to community accountability as another widening?
Let's be clear, community accountability is accountability towards the community. The difference now is that communities become shareholders. Before they were paying under the table, now they pay and they can ask, what have you done with the money, why have you not done this or that? This is the difference between a vague participatory process and being represented and part of the management of the health unit. And this is something we still need to work on. People have no voice and no exit in low-income countries, except to go to the private sector, but this is not for the poor.
In her recent interview on this blog, Sassy Molyneux insists that we must “carefully consider remuneration and other forms of incentives for community representatives, the challenges of asymmetries between health staff and community representatives in resources and power, and the importance of building trustful relationships”. To me, this sounds a bit like considering the local politics of health. It always struck me how little attention seems to be paid to politics in the BI. We are in a sort of political process, right?
It is political. And not understanding that it is political is the biggest mistake you could do. I think that within the public health community we are sometimes very naïve. We think about supervision and training as the keys to everything but health is political. This is why the US has its health system and this is why Scandinavians have a different health system. Science is science but how science is available as well as the quality of and equity in access to care are political issues. We have to accept it is a though road to get to high quality equitable health care and we are not there yet. There still is a huge asymmetry between the health staff and the people and it is a sign that democracy is not there yet. We need to start from this problem. What I have seen with the Bamako Initiative is a deeply political, not a strictly technical, issue. But of course, people use things and declarations in different ways and they have used this initiative according to their own interests and point of view.
Twenty five years have passed. You have an extensive experience of primary health care in low income countries. According to you, what will be the keys for primary health care in the next 25 years?
What I see coming is more privatisation and more urbanisation. People seem to find in urban areas and even in slums opportunities they do not have in their rural areas. Some countries are growing and establishing health insurance which is an excellent thing I think. At the end of my time working on the Bamako Initiative, we were working on two things (there were two teams). One was community-based monitoring, because data are power. The other was local insurance. Health insurance is a key issue but it is difficult to establish. In many case they start at the national level; yet, in Europe local solidarity mechanisms were the initial insurances.
We need to work on public accountability and equity. These are the two key areas. Are we going in this direction? I am not sure. I think in some countries we are, but in a majority of other countries the private sector is growing as people have more resources and the public sector remains under-financed. What is more, this public sector is very inefficient unless there is public accountability. This is the mixed picture I have. On one side, they are countries progressing, doing very going things. Take for instance the experience of Rwanda with community-based health insurance (French: mutuelles de santé) and new staff remuneration policy. But on the other side, there are many others I think are not going in the same direction.
Any questions I have not asked and you would have liked me to ask or any conclusion you would like to make?
Not really, for me, as I said, it was a fascinating experience. I realised it was also a fascinating debate. Some of the issues are, as I said, very political and some are extremely relevant now. We have to address the relation between the patient, the client and the provider. The current debate of performance-based financing, which is linking financing not to the drugs but to the results, is also extremely interesting. Of course, it will not solve all the problems. I think we should be able to see what the good experiences were in the past and move on, adding on new experiences and new things. Basic public accountability and the role of people is extremely important, good governance of health facilities is very important but result-based financing of health facilities is also very promising if we combine it with other things we have learned. We should not move from fashion to fashion but take the past into account, understand what we have learned and build on it.