1Yale School of Public Health, Yale University, New Haven, CT, USA
2Harvard Divinity School, Cambridge, MA, USA
3Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Seattle, WA, USA
Despite a renewed focus in the field of global health on strengthening health systems, inadequate attention has been directed to a key ingredient of high-performing health systems: management. We aimed to develop the argument that management – defined here as the process of achieving predetermined objectives through human, financial, and technical resources – is a cross-cutting function necessary for success in all World Health Organization (WHO) building blocks of health systems strengthening. Management within health systems is particularly critical in low-income settings where the efficient use of scarce resources is paramount to attaining health goals. More generally, investments in management capacity may be viewed as a key leverage point in grand strategy, as strong management enables the achievement of large ends with limited means. We also sought to delineate a set of core competencies and identify key roles to be targeted for management capacity building efforts. Several effective examples of management interventions have been described in the research literature. Together, the existing evidence underscores the importance of country ownership of management capacity building efforts, which often challenge the status quo and thus need country leadership to sustain despite inevitable friction. The literature also recognizes that management capacity efforts, as a key ingredient of effective systems change, take time to embed, as new protocols and ways of working become habitual and integrated as standard operating procedures. Despite these challenges, the field of health management as part of global health system strengthening efforts holds promise as a fundamental leverage point for achieving health system performance goals with existing human, technical, and financial resources. The evidence base consistently supports the role of management in performance improvement but would benefit from additional research with improved methodological rigor and longer-time horizon investigations. Meanwhile, greater emphasis on management as a critical element of global health efforts may open new and sustainable avenues for advancing health systems performance.
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