The failure to meet health goals such as the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) is partly due to the lack of appropriate resources for the effective implementation of health policies. The lack of coherence between the health policies and human resource (HR) strategy is one of the major causes. This article explores the relationship and the degree of coherence between health policy--in this case maternal health policy--processes and HR strategy in Vietnam, China and India in the period 2005-09. Four maternal health policy case studies were explored [skilled birth attendance (SBA), adolescent and sexual reproductive health, domestic violence and medical termination of pregnancy] across three countries through interviews with key respondents, document analysis and stakeholder meetings. Analysis for coherence between health policy and HR strategy was informed by a typology covering 'separation', 'fit' and 'dialogue'. Regarding coherence we found examples of complete separation between health policy and HR strategy, a good fit with the SBA policy though modified through 'dialogue' in Vietnam, and in one case a good fit between policy and strategy was developed through successive evaluations. Three key influences on coherence between health policy and HR strategy emerge from our findings: (1) health as the lead sector, (2) the nature of the policy instrument and (3) the presence of 'HR champions'. Finally, we present a simple algorithm to ensure that appropriate HR related actors are involved; HR is considered at the policy development stage with the option of modifying the policy if it cannot be adequately supported by the available health workforce; and ensuring that HR strategies are monitored to ensure continued coherence with the health policy. This approach will ensure that the health workforce contributes more effectively to meeting the MDGs and future health goals.
Keywords: Health policy; human resources; maternal health; policy analysis.
Published by Oxford University Press in association with The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine © The Author 2013; all rights reserved.