A brief Introduction to health systems

October 17, 2010 § Leave a comment

Health is an inalienable human right.

However, the reality of health in Africa currently is depressing at best. Africa owns twenty-four percent of the global burden of disease. The lack of basic health infrastructure in Sub-Saharan Africa leads to a complete lack of capacity to deal with major epidemics and also the inability to provide basic healthcare for the citizens. The impact of this can be seen in the huge mortality rates for HIV/Aids and malaria. The pervasive high rates of maternal and child mortality in Africa are pressing indicators of  health care structures in trouble. Human development is often defined in terms of the health outcomes within a population.  Indicators such as maternal mortality, child mortality, and life expectancy all represent standards used to gauge the well being and development of a population in a given context.

The main institution charged with the responsibility of ensuring good health outcomes within a country is the health system. A Health System has been extensively defined by various international bodies. There are six globally accepted building blocks or frameworks of a health system as defined by the World Health Organization.  These frameworks are useful to test the quality of a health system. They are: service delivery, health workforce, health information system, medical products, vaccines, and technologies, financing, and lastly governance and leadership.

Health Services

This indicator covers any actions of the health system that suggests an engagement in delivering health interventions to the population. Health services must be delivered to the part of the population with the greatest need, at the time it’s needed and to the location where the services could be easily accessed. Hence, efficient care to those who need it, to where and when it’s needed is the main spirit of this building block.

Health Workforce

All workers that engage in activities in any capacity that results in the goals of delivering efficient services and interventions to those who need it, when it is needed constitute the health workforce. This building block also measures the ratio of direct health workers to the population they serve. It gauges whether there are enough workers that could meet the health needs of the population sufficiently. Are all post occupied? And are the workers competent? Are they trained to deliver the essential services?

Health Information System

This function of the health system is concerned with gathering information and data in regards to health outcomes, services, and all other actions of the system. The HIS also must engage in analysing the information gathered, and must also disseminate this information to the appropriate stakeholders.

Health Financing

The system must ensure that there are enough resources to fulfil its entire mandate. This building block guarantees that the population is shielded from any sort of financial catastrophe whether or not they fall ill during their lifetime. This is extremely important.


This building block deals with access to “medical products, vaccines and technologies” (WHR, 2000). All people should have equal and timely access to all equipments, drugs, and advance to medical technology that might save their lives as long as it’s available at the time. This building block ensures that this is possible within a given health system.


This health system function guides all the other building block towards the ultimate end of the system which is better health outcomes for the population for which it serves. It creates an enabling environment for all the building blocks to fulfil their own mandates for the successful completion of health systems goals. It must regulate, provide oversight and govern all systems actors.

One cannot overstate the importance of a health system.When the HIV epidemic struck the United States in 1969, it was an unknown disease. However, because of the strength of the American health system the epidemic was localized and the disease was largely prevented from becoming a major pandemic. Without effective health systems, diseases will decimate the population and significantly lower their morale.

Building the capacity of the health systems is the new frontier in development, so that most Africans can enjoy the most basic of human rights; the right to health.


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