Background: Stronger health systems, with an emphasis on community-based primary health care, are required to help accelerate the pace of ending preventable maternal and child deaths as well as contribute to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The success of the SDGs will require unprecedented coordination across sectors, including partnerships between public, private, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). To date, little attention has been paid to the distinct ways in which NGOs (both international and local) can partner with existing national government health systems to institutionalize community health strategies.
Discussion: In this paper, we propose a new conceptual framework that depicts three primary pathways through which NGOs can contribute to the institutionalization of community-focused maternal, newborn, and child health (MNCH) strategies to strengthen health systems at the district, national or global level. To illustrate the practical application of these three pathways, we present six illustrative cases from multiple NGOs and discuss the primary drivers of institutional change. In the first pathway, "learning for leverage," NGOs demonstrate the effectiveness of new innovations that can stimulate changes in the health system through adaptation of research into policy and practice. In the second pathway, "thought leadership," NGOs disseminate lessons learned to public and private partners through training, information sharing and collaborative learning. In the third pathway, "joint venturing," NGOs work in partnership with the government health system to demonstrate the efficacy of a project and use their collective voice to help guide decision-makers. In addition to these pathways, we present six key drivers that are critical for successful institutionalization: strategic responsiveness to national health priorities, partnership with policymakers and other stakeholders, community ownership and involvement, monitoring and use of data, diversification of financial resources, and longevity of efforts.
Conclusion: With additional research, we propose that this framework can contribute to program planning and policy making of donors, governments, and the NGO community in the institutionalization of community health strategies.
Keywords: Community-focused strategies; Health systems; Maternal, newborn, and child health; Non-governmental organizations; Scale-up.