Nossal Institute for Global Health - Theses

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    Mechanisms of effect: a health systems analysis of the impact of introducing treatment services for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) into four public primary health centres in Zambia
    Topp, Stephanie M. ( 2013)
    Between 1996 and 2008 global funding for the treatment of human immuno-deficiency virus (HIV) and acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) increased from US$300 million to an estimated US$15.6 billion. Much of this money was directed to a small number of countries such as Zambia in sub-Saharan Africa, where HIV/AIDS constitutes a major health, social and economic threat. Although the necessity and urgency of responding to the HIV epidemics in these countries was not in question, the exceptional levels of HIV funding and the rapidity of the scale-up of HIV- services did reignite a debate regarding the impact of disease-specific programs on recipient countries’ health systems. Notwithstanding the high profile nature of this debate, little empirical research exists to inform policy makers or programmers in their efforts to meet the dual aims of improving disease-specific health outcomes and simultaneously strengthening health systems. Meeting a gap in the literature, this study examines the impact of introducing donor-funded HIV services into the Zambian health system, focusing specifically on the impact on primary health ‘micro-systems’. The conceptual framework for this study draws from theory developed in the application of complexity science and systems thinking to health systems analysis, which suggests that health systems are characterised by the interconnectedness of their component parts. The multi-disciplinary framework theorises that interactions between system ‘hardware’ and system ‘software’ influence mechanisms of accountability and trust, and through these, the quality and responsiveness of service delivery within health micro-systems. This approach challenges the implicit assumptions of more reductionist frameworks, which suggest that health systems – and particularly micro-level systems – are a simple composite of individual ‘building blocks’. This study adopted a multi-case study design, with four Zambian health centres purposefully selected based on the presence of an established HIV department (more than 3 years old), and urban, peri-urban and rural characteristics. Case data collected in each facility included facility audits, direct observation of facility operations and interviews with patients, staff, and District and non-government officials. Data were triangulated and analysed for each case first, and cross-case analysis subsequently carried out to improve the analytical generalisability of the findings. The findings from this study demonstrate that the rapid scale-up of HIV services in Zambia, which focused predominantly on investing in health system hardware, acted unevenly on mechanisms of accountability and trust and had mixed outcomes on the four health centres’ overall functionality. It was revealed, for example, that the short-term gains in health worker performance achieved through investment in system hardware for HIV services were difficult to sustain, as the lack of investment in underlying mechanisms of accountability such as improved answerability and enforceability or stronger patient-provider trust, enabled perverse work norms to flourish in ways that undermined quality and responsiveness of care. The study points to the critical importance of accounting for the ideas, values and norms of actors in the health system (system software) in order to plan and deliver disease-specific interventions that achieve both their programmatic aims as well as producing long-term, system-strengthening effects. The study constitutes an important contribution to the field of health policy and systems research providing empirical evidence of the complex, social and adaptive nature of health micro-systems and demonstrating the critical value of the hardware-software construct for analysing mechanisms of effect in this domain.