In 2001, Afghanistan's Ministry of Public Health inherited a devastated health system and some of the worst health statistics in the world. The health system was rebuilt based on the Basic Package of Health Services (BPHS). This paper examines why the BPHS was needed, how it was developed, its content and the changes resulting from the rebuilding. The methods used for assessing change were to review health outcome and health system indicator changes from 2004 to 2011 structured along World Health Organisation's six building blocks of health system strengthening. BPHS implementation contributed to success in improving health status by translating policy and strategy into practical interventions, focusing health services on priority health problems, clearly defining the services to be delivered at different service levels and helped the Ministry to exert its stewardship role. BPHS was expanded nationwide by contracting out its provision of services to non-governmental organisations. As a result, access to and utilisation of primary health care services in rural areas increased dramatically because the number of BPHS facilities more than doubled; access for women to basic health care improved; more deliveries were attended by skilled personnel; supply of essential medicines increased; and the health information system became more functional.
Keywords: Afghanistan; Basic Package of Health Services; contracting out; health systems strengthening; non-governmental organisations.