Two West African countries, Benin and Guinea, have been reorganizing their peripheral health systems since 1986, with the goal of improving access to primary health care (PHC). A comprehensive approach evolve, based on improving effectiveness, optimizing efficiency, ensuring financial variability and promoting equity. These strategies were launched as the Bamako Initiative by the World Health Organization's Regional Assembly in 1987. This is the first in a series of five articles on the Bamako Initiative in Benin and Guinea. The strategies implemented in these two countries are discussed. Subsequent articles discuss the improved health indicators, impact on service costs efficiency, and community empowerment through local cost recovery and equity implications. The health center is the basis for a revitalized primary care system. From here, an integrated minimum health care package is readily accessible to meet basic community health needs. Through the Bamako Initiative program, drugs and other essential resources are always available, regular contract between the community health service providers and communities has increased, and the quality of care has improved while also becoming more efficient. Community health resources are managed locally through joint microplanning and monitoring, involving health personnel and village committees. Community ownership, fostered by local budgeting and decision making, is an essential pillar for the success of the system.