Partnerships for health development
There is a tension between the often short-term goals of donors, who require quick and measurable results on their investments, and the longer-term needs of the health system. That tension has only heightened in recent years, where the surge in international aid for particular diseases has come with ambitious coverage targets and intense scale-up efforts oriented much more to short-term than long-term goals. Though additional funding is particularly welcome in low-income contexts, it can often greatly reduce the negotiating power of national health system leaders in modifying proposed interventions or requesting simultaneous independent evaluations of these interventions as they roll out.
Harmonizing the policies, priorities and perspectives of donors with those of national policy-makers is an immediate and pressing concern – though with apparent solutions. In addition, the selective nature of these funding mechanisms (e.g. targeting only specific diseases and subsequent support strategies) may undermine progress towards the long-term goals of effective, high-quality and inclusive health systems.
Even where this funding has strengthened components of the health system specifically linked to service delivery in disease prevention and control – such as specific on-the-job staff training – the selective nature of these health systems strengthening strategies has sometimes been unsustainable, interruptive and duplicative. This puts great strain on the already limited and overstretched health workforce. In addition, focusing on "rapid-impact" treatment interventions for specific diseases and ignoring investments in prevention may also send sharply negative effects across the system’s building blocks, including, paradoxically, deteriorating outcome on the targeted diseases themselves.
Many of these issues have been recognized internationally, and a number of donors have agreed to better harmonize their efforts and align with country-led priorities – as outlined in the 2005 Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness (see figure). However, although some progress has been made in applying the Paris Declaration principles, it has been slow and uneven. Change in the process and the nature of the relationship between donors and countries requires time, focused attention at all levels, and a determined political will.