National health policies, strategies and plans

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Why are national health policies, strategies and plans important?

Policies, strategies and plans are not ends in themselves. They are part of the larger process that aims to align country priorities with the real health needs of the population, generate buy-in across government, health and development partners, civil society and the private sector, and make better use of all available resources for health – so that all people in all places have access to quality health care and live longer, healthier lives as a result.

The mismatch between actual performance of fragmented health systems and the rising expectations of society is becoming a cause of concern and internal pressure for health authorities and political leaders.

These and other factors – including today's consensus around the importance of realistic costing and strong monitoring and evaluation – have translated into a renewed focus on strengthening countries' capacity to develop robust national health policies, strategies, and plans that can:

  • respond to growing calls for strengthening health systems through Primary Health Care as a way of achieving the goal of better health for all. This requires action in four policy areas: moving towards universal coverage, reorienting conventional care towards people-centred care, integrating health in all policies, and ensuring more inclusive health governance;
  • guide and steer the entire, pluralist health sector rather than being limited to command-and-control plans for the public sector alone;
  • go beyond the boundaries of health systems, addressing the social determinants of health and the interaction between the health sector and other sectors in society.

Additionally, in countries where external aid plays a significant role, national health policies, strategies, and plans are increasingly seen as the key to improve aid effectiveness.

Joint assessment can also help to strengthen national health strategies and plans and increase partner confidence, thereby securing more predictable and better aligned funding. It may also reduce transaction costs arising from multiple separate agency assessments.

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"Governments have a responsibility for the health of their peoples which can be fulfilled only by the provision of adequate health and social measures."
Constitution of the World Health Organization