Operationalising health systems thinking: a pathway to high effective coverage

Health Res Policy Syst. 2020 Nov 3;18(1):132. doi: 10.1186/s12961-020-00615-8.


Background: The global health community has recognised the importance of defining and measuring the effective coverage of health interventions and their implementation strength to monitor progress towards global mortality and morbidity targets. Existing health system models and frameworks guide thinking around these measurement areas; however, they fall short of adequately capturing the dynamic and multi-level relationships between different components of the health system. These relationships must be articulated for measurement and managed to effectively deliver health interventions of sufficient quality to achieve health impacts. Save the Children's Saving Newborn Lives programme and EnCompass LLC, its evaluation partner, developed and applied the Pathway to High Effective Coverage as a health systems thinking framework (hereafter referred to as the Pathway) in its strategic planning, monitoring and evaluation.

Methods: We used an iterative approach to develop, test and refine thinking around the Pathway. The initial framework was developed based on existing literature, then shared and vetted during consultations with global health thought leaders in maternal and newborn health.

Results: The Pathway is a robust health systems thinking framework that unpacks system, policy and point of intervention delivery factors, thus encouraging specific actions to address gaps in implementation and facilitate the achievement of high effective coverage. The Pathway includes six main components - (1) national readiness; (2) system structures; (3) management capacity; (4) implementation strength; (5) effective coverage; and (6) impact. Each component is comprised of specific elements reflecting the range of facility-, community- and home-based interventions. We describe applications of the Pathway and results for in-country strategic planning, monitoring of progress and implementation strength, and evaluation.

Conclusions: The Pathway provides a cohesive health systems thinking framework that facilitates assessment and coordinated action to achieve high coverage and impact. Experiences of its application show its utility in guiding strategic planning and in more comprehensive and effective monitoring and evaluation as well as its potential adaptability for use in other health areas and sectors.

Keywords: Effective coverage; health systems thinking; implementation strength; newborn health.

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Global Health*
  • Government Programs
  • Humans
  • Infant Health*
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Systems Analysis