Recent trends in working with the private sector to improve basic healthcare: a review of evidence and interventions

Health Policy Plan. 2016 Oct;31(8):1117-32. doi: 10.1093/heapol/czw018. Epub 2016 May 19.


The private sector provides the majority of health care in Africa and Asia. A number of interventions have, for many years, applied different models of subsidy, support and engagement to address social and efficiency failures in private health care markets. We have conducted a review of these models, and the evidence in support of them, to better understand what interventions are currently common, and to what extent practice is based on evidence. Using established typologies, we examined five models of intervention with private markets for care: commodity social marketing, social franchising, contracting, accreditation and vouchers. We conducted a systematic review of both published and grey literature, identifying programmes large enough to be cited in publications, and studies of the listed intervention types. 343 studies were included in the review, including both published and grey literature. Three hundred and eighty programmes were identified, the earliest having begun operation in 1955. Commodity social marketing programmes were the most common intervention type, with 110 documented programmes operating for condoms alone at the highest period. Existing evidence shows that these models can improve access and utilization, and possibly quality, but for all programme types, the overall evidence base remains weak, with practice in private sector engagement consistently moving in advance of evidence. Future research should address key questions concerning the impact of interventions on the market as a whole, the distribution of benefits by socio-economic status, the potential for scale up and sustainability, cost-effectiveness compared to relevant alternatives and the risk of unintended consequences. Alongside better data, a stronger conceptual basis linking programme design and outcomes to context is also required.

Keywords: Contracting; developing countries; effectiveness; efficiency; equity; health care; impact; private providers; private sector.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Africa
  • Asia
  • Contracts / economics*
  • Delivery of Health Care / organization & administration
  • Developing Countries
  • Health Care Sector / organization & administration*
  • Health Policy / economics
  • Humans
  • Private Sector / economics
  • Private Sector / organization & administration*
  • Private Sector / trends