The role of social networks in the governance of health systems: the case of eye care systems in Ghana

Health Policy Plan. 2013 Mar;28(2):143-56. doi: 10.1093/heapol/czs031. Epub 2012 Mar 12.


Efforts have been increasingly invested to improve local health systems' capacities in developing countries. We describe the application of innovative methods based on a social network analysis approach. The findings presented refer to a study carried out between July 2008 and January 2010 in the Brong Ahafo region of Ghana. Social network analysis methods were applied in five different districts using the software package Ucinet to calculate the various properties of the social network of eye care providers. The study focused on the managerial decisions made by Ghanaian district hospital managers about the governance of the health system. The study showed that the health system in the Brong Ahafo region experienced significant changes specifically after a key shock, the departure of an international organization. Several other actors at different levels of the network disappeared, the positions of nurses and hospital managers changed, creating new relationships and power balances that resulted in a change in the general structure of the network. The system shifted from a centralized and dense hierarchical network towards an enclaved network composed of five sub-networks. The new structure was less able to respond to shocks, circulate information and knowledge across scales and implement multi-scale solutions than that which it replaced. Although the network became less resilient, it responded better to the management needs of the hospital managers who now had better access to information, even if this information was partial. The change of the network over time also showed the influence of the international organization on generating links and creating connections between actors from different levels. The findings of the study reveal the importance of creating international health connections between actors working in different spatial scales of the health system.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Delivery of Health Care / organization & administration*
  • Ghana
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Ophthalmology / organization & administration*
  • Regional Medical Programs / organization & administration
  • Social Support*
  • Workforce