Disease-specific Global Fund grants may be preventing the realisation of system-wide synergies for increased human resources for health

Global Fund investments in human resources for health: innovation and missed opportunities for health systems strengthening.

Bowser D, Sparkes SP, Mitchell A, Bossert TJ, Bärnighausen T, Gedik G, Atun R. Health Policy Plan. 2014 Dec;29(8):986-97. doi: 10.1093/heapol/czt080. Epub 2013 Nov 6.

Background: Since the early 2000s, there have been large increases in donor financing of human resources for health (HRH), yet few studies have examined their effects on health systems.

Objective: To determine the scope and impact of investments in HRH by the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (Global Fund), the largest investor in HRH outside national governments.

Methods: We used mixed research methodology to analyse budget allocations and expenditures for HRH, including training, for 138 countries receiving money from the Global Fund during funding rounds 1-7. From these aggregate figures, we then identified 27 countries with the largest funding for human resources and training and examined all HRH-related performance indicators tracked in Global Fund grant reports. We used the results of these quantitative analyses to select six countries with substantial funding and varied characteristics-representing different regions and income levels for further in-depth study: Bangladesh (South and West Asia, low income), Ethiopia (Eastern Africa, low income), Honduras (Latin America, lower-middle income), Indonesia (South and West Asia, lower-middle income), Malawi (Southern Africa, low income) and Ukraine (Eastern Europe and Central Asia, upper-middle income). We used qualitative methods to gather information in each of the six countries through 159 interviews with key informants from 83 organizations. Using comparative case-study analysis, we examined Global Fund's interactions with other donors, as well as its HRH support and co-ordination within national health systems.

Results: Around US$1.4 billion (23% of total US$5.1 billion) of grant funding was allocated to HRH by the 138 Global Fund recipient countries. In funding rounds 1-7, the six countries we studied in detail were awarded a total of 47 grants amounting to US$1.2 billion and HRH budgets of US$276 million, of which approximately half were invested in disease-focused in-service and short-term training activities. Countries employed a variety of mechanisms including salary top-ups, performance incentives, extra compensation and contracting of workers for part-time work, to pay health workers using Global Fund financing. Global Fund support for training and salary support was not co-ordinated with national strategic plans and there were major deficiencies in the data collected by the Global Fund to track HRH financing and to provide meaningful assessments of health system performance.

Conclusion: The narrow disease focus and lack of co-ordination with national governments call into question the efficiency of funding and sustainability of Global Fund investments in HRH and their effectiveness in strengthening recipient countries' health systems. The lessons that emerge from this analysis can be used by both the Global Fund and other donors to improve co-ordination of investments and the effectiveness of programmes in recipient countries.

Abstract access [1] 

Editor’s notes: This study describes Global Fund’s budget allocations, expenditures and specific activities on human resources for health (HRH) from 2002 to 2010. The authors were particularly interested in exploring whether and how these investments contributed to health system strengthening through a more detailed qualitative analysis of six geographically and programmatically different countries.  

They find that the 27 countries with the largest budgeted HRH expenditures allocated some 29.6% to HRH, and had a ratio of 1.35 health workers trained in comparison to the total national health workforce, suggesting duplication of training activities and programme inefficiency. This reflects the confirmed lack of coordination with national HRH training programmes that the authors documented, particularly in Ethiopia, Bangladesh and Malawi. In terms of coordinating HRH salary support and financing plans, only Honduras and Malawi had developed plans for absorbing some of the health workers that were being covered by Global Fund grants. In other countries, the top-ups and monetary compensation/ incentives funded through Global Fund grants to increase retention and motivation, were considered short-term and would not be sustained. Of the six country case studies, it is only in Malawi that the Global Fund coordinated its efforts with the national HRH strategy and other donor programmes.

The study highlights the need for a paradigm shift away from disease-focused grants to co-investments in HIV, tuberculosis and malaria that would allow the realisation of remarkable synergies and efficiency gains.

Africa [6], Asia [7], Europe [8], Latin America [9]
Bangladesh [10], Ethiopia [11], Honduras [12], Indonesia [13], Malawi [14], Ukraine [15]
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