There is a growing international consensus that African health systems need to improve, but no agreement on how to accomplish this. From the perspective of modern quality improvement (QI), a central issue for low performance in these health systems is the relative neglect of health-care processes. Both health system leaders and international donors have focused their efforts elsewhere, producing noteworthy health gains. But these gains are at risk if health systems do not develop the capacity to study and improve care processes. Substantial experience with QI in Africa shows impressive potential for broad-based process improvement. But this experience also highlights the need for modifying these growing programs to incorporate a more rigorous learning component to address challenges that have emerged recently. The addition of a region-wide knowledge management program could increase the efficiency of each country's QI program by learning from the experiences of other programs. With a coordinated donor initiative, it is reasonable to project that within 5 years, evidence-based improvement will become a norm in health services, and African health systems will approach the model of a learning organization.
Keywords: Africa; health systems strengthening; quality improvement.