Bulletin of the World Health Organization

Towards sustainable delivery of health services in Afghanistan: options for the future

B Sabri, S Siddiqi, AM Ahmed, FK Kakar, J Perrot

Disruption caused by decades of war and civil strife in Afghanistan has led many international and national nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to assume responsibility for the delivery of health services through contracts with donor agencies. Recently the Afghan Government has pursued the policy of contracting for a basic package of health services (BPHS) supported by funds from three major donors – the World Bank, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the European Commission. With the gradual strengthening of the public health ministry, options for the future include pursuing the contracting option or increasing public provision of health services.

Should contracting with NGOs be pursued, a clear strategy is required that includes developing accreditation instruments, better contracting mechanisms and a system for monitoring and evaluating the entire process. Should the government opt for an increasing role, problems to be solved include securing the transition to public provision, obtaining guarantees that appropriate financing will be provided and reconfiguration of the public health delivery system. Large-scale contracting with the private for-profit sector cannot be recommended at this stage, although this option could be explored via subcontracting by larger NGOs or small-scale trial contracts initiated by the public health ministry. Irrespective of the option chosen, an important challenge remaining is the recalcitrant problem of high out-of-pocket payments.

Sustainable delivery of health services in Afghanistan can only be achieved with a clear national strategy in which all stakeholders have roles to play in the financing, regulation and delivery of services.