Setting priority for health programming and budget allocation is an important issue, but there is little consensus on related processes. It is particularly relevant in low resource settings and at province- and district- or "meso-level", where contextual influences may be greater, information scarce and capacity lower. Although recent changes in disease epidemiology and health financing suggest even greater need to allocate resources effectively, the literature is relatively silent on evidence-based priority-setting in low and middle income countries (LMICs). We conducted a comprehensive review of the peer-reviewed and grey literature on health resource priority-setting in LMICs, focussing on meso-level and the evidence-based priority-setting processes (PSPs) piloted or suggested there. Our objective was to assess PSPs according to whether they have influenced resource allocation and impacted the outcome indicators prioritised. An exhaustive search of the peer-reviewed and grey literature published in the last decade yielded 57 background articles and 75 reports related to priority-setting at meso-level in LMICs. Although proponents of certain PSPs still advocate their use, other experts instead suggest broader elements to guide priority-setting. We conclude that currently no process can be confidently recommended for such settings. We also assessed the common reasons for failure at all levels of priority-setting and concluded further that local authorities should additionally consider contextual and systems limitations likely to prevent a satisfactory process and outcomes, particularly at meso-level. Recent literature proposes a list of related attributes and warning signs, and facilitated our preparation of a simple decision-tree or roadmap to help determine whether or not health systems issues should be improved in parallel to support for needed priority-setting; what elements of the PSP need improving; monitoring, and evaluation. Health priority-setting at meso-level in LMICs can involve common processes, but will often require additional attention to local health systems.
Keywords: Budgeting; Evidence-based policy; Health systems; Lower- and middle-income countries (LMICs); Meso-level; Planning; Priority-setting; Resource allocation.
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