Exploring factors driving the performance of rural health care in Papua New Guinea (Policy Note)
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Cairns, A., Witter, S. and Hou, X. (2018) Exploring factors driving the performance of rural health care in Papua New Guinea. Washington, DC: World Bank, Economic & Sector Work Studies, Policy Notes (no. 127122).
Examining performance patterns of sub-national units, such as provinces and districts, within a health system is important to understand their drivers and what might be needed to improve outputs. Such literature is relatively rare in low and middle-income countries. It is particularly relevant for Papua New Guinea, which is underperforming in relation to its neighbours and targets for core health indicators and faces particular geographical challenges, with a dispersed and diverse population. In this analysis, we undertake simple correlation analysis between remoteness of populations, expenditure on frontline services and core outputs by provinces and regions, such as antenatal care, outpatient visits, outreach clinics, referrals of patients and facility supervision in 2012. In the context of the challenging geography of Papua New Guinea, these are expected to be important factors. Some expected patterns were found – for example, between remoteness and higher service costs, as well as between remoteness and higher outreach services. Outpatient visits, however, increased with remoteness, which was surprising. Our correlation analyses suggest a virtuous circle operating in some areas (even in the most geographically challenged) between outreach clinics, immunisation coverage, supervision, frontline spending and overall health system performance, which merits further investigation into the factors supporting these and how they can be reinforced elsewhere. Whilst expenditure did not correlate closely with provincial performance, it was evident that the provinces with higher performance across the selection of metrics typically were also the higher spenders on frontline services. There was some correlation of higher performance with density of public provision. More fine-grained assessment, including at the district level, will be needed to understand the low levels of outreach clinics, transfers and supervision, all of which are critical for quality health care in these kinds of contexts. The analysis illustrates what can be learned from combining routine data sources, as well as the limits and the need to complement such analysis with more detailed local qualitative investigations. It also reinforces the message that local leadership, supportive supervision and resources directed to frontline services can be effective in raising health system performance, even in challenging settings.