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How effective are healthcare policies?

Healthcare policies are primarily formulated to promote the health and wellbeing of the population.

An assessment of the effectiveness of healthcare policies

In response to this, countries across the world have come together to formulate and implement health policies to contribute to universal health coverage (UHC), strengthening of health systems, primary health care and health system financing, all of which help to achieve the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal 3: Ensure healthy lives and promote wellbeing for all at all ages (United Nations 2020). However, the effectiveness of these policies across countries differs due to different situational factors within each country.

Health policies have been key to achieving some great public health goals in the past centuries. Policies have informed immunisation practices, water fluoridation, occupational health amongst others. These examples highlight how policies have been useful in organising the efforts of societies and countries to improve the health of the population.

It’s become increasingly clear that health policies have a role to play in addressing the global burden posed by communicable and non-communicable diseases. In recognition of this, the WHO has convened several high-level meetings which have resulted in policies targeted at specific health matters. Indeed, policies such as the Polio Eradication and Endgame Strategic Plan, Childhood Obesity Plan, TB eradication programme, and the Global Malaria Programme have all been implemented at different levels to improve the health of the population.

The eradication of smallpox in 1980 perhaps represents the clearest way of highlighting the effectiveness of healthcare policies, as it’s the only human disease to be eradicated through a vaccination programme. Also, river blindness has been eliminated as a public health problem, leprosy is close to eradication, and guinea worm control efforts have resulted in a 97% reduction in cases since 1986 (WHO 2014).

However, the achievements of health policies are not equally shared among different countries. For instance, out of the 20 countries with the highest maternal mortality ratios around the world, 19 are in Africa. These differences highlight the different contexts under which similar health policies deliver dissimilar outcomes.

Problems of evidence

The evidence needed to illustrate the effectiveness of health policies is much scarcer than the evidence highlighting the disease burden. There is a complex causal web between the socioeconomic determinants of health such as education, income, employment and policy effectiveness. However, there’s a strong case supporting the development of health policies as they have proved useful in addressing the health needs of the population, both nationally and globally. Gains have been achieved in reducing the burden of some diseases.

Perhaps, health policies should be seen as opportunities to address the complex and unprecedented challenges faced in the global health system within this generation. Health policy is one potentially effective way to improve the health of populations (Thomson et al. 2016).

Your task

Read Chapter 4, pp 22-26, of the review of international policies, approaches and action to address obesity by Public Health Wales.

Public Health Wales (2018)

Non-communicable diseases, such as obesity, are being managed in different ways in different countries.

Critically analyse three differences in healthcare policies being implemented by two different countries following WHO recommendations.

Share your findings with your fellow students in the comments area.

Further reading

Biesma, R. G., Brugha, R., Harmer, A., Walsh, A., Spicer, N., & Walt, G. (2009). The Effects of Global Health Initiatives on Country Health Systems: A Review of the Evidence from HIV/AIDS control. Health Policy and Planning, 24(4). https://locate.coventry.ac.uk/permalink/f/1ea4mrv/TN_proquest210818900

Jones, C. M., Clavier, C. & Potvin, L. (2017). Adapting Public Policy Theory for Public Health Research: A Framework to Understand the Development of National Policies on Global Health. Social Science and Medicine, 177, 69-77. https://locate.coventry.ac.uk/permalink/f/1ea4mrv/TN_elsevier_sdoi_10_1016_j_socscimed_2017_01_048


Thomson, K., Bambra, C., McNamara, C., Huijts, T., & Todd, A. (2016). The Effects of Public Health Policies on Population Health and Health Inequalities in European Welfare States: Protocol for an Umbrella Review. Systematic Reviews, 5(1). https://locate.coventry.ac.uk/permalink/f/1ea4mrv/TN_gale_ofa449253107

United Nations. (2020). Sustainable Development Goals. https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/sustainable-development-goals/

World Health Organization. (2014). The health of the people. What works. The African Regional Health Report 2014. https://www.who.int/bulletin/africanhealth2014/en/

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This article is from the free online course:

Policy Formulation and Analysis in Healthcare

Coventry University