Moving towards universal health coverage: Strengthening the evidence ecosystem for the South African health system

05 Dec 2019

Health policy and systems research (HPSR) guides health system reforms and is essential for South Africa (SA)’s progress towards universal coverage of high-quality healthcare. For HPSR evidence to inform and strengthen health systems, it needs to flow efficiently between evidence producers, evidence synthesisers, evidence processers and disseminators and evidence implementors in an evidence ecosystem. A substantial body of evidence for health systems strengthening is generated in SA, and this informs national and international health system guidelines and guidance. In this manuscript, in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the SA Medical Research Council, we apply an evidence ecosystem lens to the SA health system, and discuss its current functioning in support of the achievement of a high-quality health system that is able to achieve universal health coverage. We use three case studies to describe successes, challenges and gaps in the functioning of the evidence ecosystem. The first case study focuses on using evidence to strengthen health-system governance and support for community health worker programmes. The second case focuses on managing the growing epidemic of drug-resistant tuberculosis, while the third case focuses on social protection, the child support grant and its impact on health. SA scientists are part of global initiatives to strengthen the health-systems evidence ecosystem, specifically through pioneering methods to synthesise evidence and produce evidence-informed guidelines to facilitate evidence use in health-system decision-making. SA institutes of health policy analysis facilitate involvement of evidence producers and synthesisers in the national health system policy-making process. A future priority is to further strengthen national initiatives to translate evidence into policy and practice and to sustain capacity for continuous technical support to health-systems policy development and implementation.

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