National health policies: sub-Saharan African case studies (1980-1990)

Soc Sci Med. 1999 Jul;49(2):223-39. doi: 10.1016/s0277-9536(99)00110-0.


Four countries, Botswana, Cote d'Ivoire, Ghana and Zimbabwe, were chosen as cases to study the impact of national health policies on national health status in sub-Saharan Africa. Through a conceptual framework that covers health problem identification, policy formulation and implementation procedures, the study examined national translations of Primary Health Care (PHC) and Health for All by the Year 2000 (HFA/2000) strategies. A series of government measures, taken between 1980-1986 for health policy development and implementation in these countries, were treated as policy determinants of national health outcomes for the period ending 1990. The impact of these determinants on national health status was then analyzed through a comparative description and documentation of observable patterns and trends in infant mortality rates (IMR), under-5 mortality rates (U5MR) and life expectancy. Policy guidelines from PHC and HFA/2000 were used in conjunction with the respective per capita Gross National Products to categorize the four cases. Based on these guidelines, Botswana was ranked high, both in terms of policy development and the level of economic development, while Zimbabwe ranked high in terms of policy development but relatively low in economic terms. Cote d'Ivoire ranked high on economic development but low with regard to its policy framework. Ghana was at the other end of the spectrum, ranking low both in terms of its policy development and its economic performance. The comparative analysis revealed that Botswana and Zimbabwe performed better than Cote d'Ivoire and Ghana on the three outcome indicators. Despite Cote d'Ivoire's superior level of economic development, its health status fell behind that of Zimbabwe and even Ghana. The study concluded that policies formulated and implemented in accordance with key PHC principles could account for improvements in national health status. Since the end of the study period (1990), there have been significant political changes in the sub-Saharan African region as a whole and in some of the case countries in particular. Political leadership has changed in Ghana and Cote d'Ivoire with some course corrections in Ghana's health plans. Health sector financing in the region has become more dependent on external donors. The World Bank leads the external donor community in promoting policy-based lending. The complexity of a number of health problems has changed while the problems themselves remain the same as before. Essentially, building viable public health infrastructures to address basic public health needs must still be high on the agenda of action for most governments in the region. Thus, notwithstanding some course corrections and reasonable shifts in priorities, all the PHC principles are still applicable, indeed, much needed in the sub-Saharan African region. This study's findings, underscoring the fact that significant improvements in health are possible even where financial resources are limited, still hold true.

MeSH terms

  • Africa South of the Sahara
  • Delivery of Health Care / economics*
  • Developing Countries*
  • Health Policy*
  • Health Services Research
  • Health Status*
  • Humans
  • Organizational Case Studies
  • Policy Making
  • Politics