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Healthcare governance during humanitarian responses: a survey of current practice among international humanitarian actors

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Prudence Jarrett, Yasin Fozdar, Nada Abdelmagid and Francesco Checchi

Abstract

Background

Large international humanitarian actors support and directly deliver health services for millions of people in crises annually, and wield considerable power to decide which health services to provide, how and to whom, across a vast spectrum of health areas. Despite decades of reform aiming to improve accountability in the sector, public health practice among humanitarian actors is not heavily scrutinized in either the countries where they are headquartered or those where they provide healthcare. We surveyed current healthcare governance practice among large international humanitarian actors to better understand what organisations are doing to ensure oversight and accountability for health services in humanitarian responses.

Methods

The term ‘healthcare governance’ was defined and categorised into seven domains: implementation of health management information systems (HMIS) and use of resulting data; professional development of health sector staff; audits of health service performance; management of clinical incidents; evidence-based practice; pharmaceutical supply; and beneficiary engagement. Senior health professionals at 32 leading international actors providing humanitarian health services were contacted between July and August 2019 to complete a 109-question online survey about their organisation’s practice in these domains.

Results

Respondents from 13 organisations completed the questionnaire. Healthcare governance practices were undertaken to varying degrees by all organisations but were often driven by donor requirements and external factors rather than improvement of programme performance. Common strengths were the inclusion of governance in organisational policies, high availability of technical guidelines, and close monitoring of pharmaceutical services. Recurring weaknesses were poor beneficiary engagement, inconsistent use of health information for decision making, unsystematic implementation of healthcare audits, inconsistent management of clinical incidents, and lack of training and professional development opportunities.

Conclusions

To our knowledge, this is the first study to describe healthcare governance practice among humanitarian actors. Leading international humanitarian healthcare providers are already implementing many healthcare governance activities; however, these are inconsistently applied and generally not reflective of systematic policies or earmarked organisational resources. There is a need for sector-wide consensus on how the humanitarian sector defines healthcare governance, the domains that constitute it, which actors in the humanitarian system are implicated, and how malpractice should be systematically addressed.