2012 Volume 6 Issue 1 Pages 1-6
Developing better health systems is the key to delivering optimal health services, although more evidence of effective strategies to do so is needed. Field surveys were conducted in Viet Nam and Cambodia to identify best practices in addressing health system bottlenecks to scale up disease control programs. The two countries were compared over time using a framework for analysis developed by the authors. In Viet Nam, a health system was in place for decades at the central to municipal levels, although it was fragile until the 1990s, when the government started taking measures. In Cambodia, the previous health system had been destroyed during previous internal conflict. In the post-conflict period, the health system was rebuilt with support for programs followed by centralization of health services. In different settings, different measures were taken to deal with similar bottlenecks. In Cambodia, vertical programs were dominant, so the government sought to centralize drug management to deal with shortages of essential drugs, while Viet Nam sought to mobilize resources to ensure drug distribution at all levels. This study shows there is no single successful approach to health systems, and a systemic approach needs to be taken because elimination of one bottleneck may reveal another. Efforts to enhance disease-specific programs may not always contribute to overall enhancement of the health system, and the best possible approach may not be the same in different countries. Further study is needed to explore common issues and principles for effective strategies to enhance health systems in different contexts.