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Leadership and governance

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The leadership and governance of health systems, also called stewardship, is arguably the most complex but critical building block of any health system.[1] It is about the role of the government in health and its relation to other actors whose activities impact on health. This involves overseeing and guiding the whole health system, private as well as public, in order to protect the public interest.

It requires both political and technical action, because it involves reconciling competing demands for limited resources in changing circumstances, for example with rising expectations, more pluralistic societies, decentralization or a growing private sector. There is increased attention to corruption and calls for a more human rights based approach to health. There is no blueprint for effective health leadership and governance. While ultimately it is the responsibility of government, this does not mean all leadership and governance functions have to be carried out by central ministries of health.

Experience suggests that there are some key functions common to all health systems, irrespective of how these are organized:

  • Policy guidance: formulating sector strategies and also specific technical policies; defining goals, directions and spending priorities across services; identifying the roles of public, private and voluntary actors and the role of civil society.
  • Intelligence and oversight: ensuring generation, analysis and use of intelligence on trends and differentials in inputs, service access, coverage, safety; on responsiveness, financial protection and health outcomes, especially for vulnerable groups; on the effects of policies and reforms; on the political environment and opportunities for action; and on policy options.
  • Collaboration and coalition building: across sectors in government and with actors outside government, including civil society, to influence action on key determinants of health and access to health services; to generate support for public policies and to keep the different parts connected – so called "joined up government".
  • Regulation: designing regulations and incentives and ensuring they are fairly enforced.
  • System design: ensuring a fit between strategy and structure and reducing duplication and fragmentation.
  • Accountability: ensuring all health system actors are held publicly accountable. Transparency is required to achieve real accountability.
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An increasing range of instruments and institutions exists to carry out the functions required for effective leadership and governance. Instruments include:

  • sector policies and medium-term expenditure frameworks
  • standardized benefit packages
  • resource allocation formulae
  • performance-based contracts
  • patients' charters
  • explicit government commitments to non-discrimination and public participation
  • public fee schedules.

Institutions involved may include:

  • other ministries, parliaments and their committees
  • other levels of government
  • independent statutory bodies such as professional councils, inspectorates and audit commissions
  • nongovernment organization "watch dogs" and a free media.

This section on Leadership and governance is structured as follows:


Analytical summary

The Minister of Health is the political head of the health sector responsible for policy issues. The chief administrator is the Principal Secretary who is responsible for policy implementation, monitoring and supervision.

The Director of Health Services is the technical head of the ministry in charge of health services. He is assisted by two deputy directors, one in charge of Health Services (Clinical) and the other of Public Health Services. Other key senior technical officers at the ministry headquarters include the Legal Advisor, Chief Nursing Officer, Senior Health Administrator, Principal Personnel Officer, Principal Planning Officer and Financial Controller.

The Ministry has reviewed the organizational structure in line with new and emerging challenges. This reform agenda has seen the establishment of new departments such as procurement and logistics management unit. At the regional level, each Regional Health Office is headed by a Regional Health Administrator and supported by a Regional Health Management Team (RHMT) whose mandate is to provide technical leadership in executing MOH policies.

The RHMT is also responsible for planning, implementation, monitoring and supervision of all health related activities within each region. At the community level, there is a network of community health workers including Rural Health Motivators (RHMs) who promote community participation in health activities in the areas. There are also community health committees who assist in the general management of health facilities.

Operations within the ministry are guided by the National Health Policy 2007 and the Health Sector Strategic Plan 2008-2013 and other national strategies such as the National Development Strategy (NDS), PRSAP, the Economic Recovery Strategy and Fiscal Adjustment Roadmap. For each programme there are also program-relevant policies and strategies such as the Health Sector Response to HIV and AIDS, which guide implementation monitoring and evaluation of relevant programme activities.

Context and background of the health system

Ministry of health and other institutions involved in health and social services

Policy making and health planning

Regulation, monitoring and evaluation

Priorities and ways forward


Endnotes: References, sources, methods, abbreviations, etc.

  1. Everybody’s business. Strengthening health systems to improve health outcomes. WHO’s framework for action (pdf 843.33kb). Geneva, World Health Organization, 2007