With support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, ThinkWell’s Bangladesh team implements the Enhancing Essential Services Provision for Universal Health Coverage (EESPUHC), in the context of Covid-19 activity, which supports the Government of Bangladesh (GoB), including Directorate General of Health Services, Directorate General of Family Planning, and the Health Economics Unit (HEU) at the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MOHFW), to prioritize and execute on planning and investments for regularizing and improving access to essential health services. This is based on deeper understanding and knowledge of essential health services trends, gaps, and resulting Covid-19 impact.
This activity is the one of the first few evidence-generating activities in Bangladesh to explore the essential service delivery context during the Covid-19 pandemic from both the supply and demand side. In addition, it is the first activity to assess the health financing bottlenecks that the health system faced during the coronavirus health emergency. During the lockdowns of the pandemic’s initial months, anecdotal data suggested that essential health services were disrupted, however no reliable data is available. Following an initial decline in service delivery, the GoB is attempting to recover and to return to the service delivery state of 2019. To support this attempt, we’re generating evidence on service status and factors that need to be addressed to recover from the initial decline.
Bangladesh has a robust primary health care (PHC) system, with a high density of community clinics and associated community health workers to provide essential health services to the population. The combination of limited documented evidence on Covid-19’s impact on essential health service provision, low service coverage, and inequitable health financing in Bangladesh created an uncertain state in health service uptake. Moreover, Bangladesh has one of the highest levels of out-of-pocket (OOP) spending in health in the world.
Formal documentation of the changes in use of essential services and the associated potential impact is not yet available, although various analyses might be ongoing. Preliminary estimates by different experts suggest decreases of 30-40% for some maternal and child health services and up to 60% for tuberculosis services (no published analyses are available yet). There is also evidence from previous global health emergencies of significant drops in essential service utilization and increase in maternal and newborn deaths. Immediate action is needed to avert this.
The MOHFW’s Health Economics Unit developed the “Health Care Financing Strategy 2012-2032” to address high out-of-pocket and catastrophic expenditures through social protection, contracting, and provider payment options. Irrespective of formally moving forward with the health financing strategy, there is limited availability for the health insurance system and contracting out essential services delivery through the private/NGO sector. We will explore these challenges to better understand their root causes. We also will try to define the way forward on health financing solutions for essential services and the country’s Covid-19 response.
We will conduct a rapid situational assessment of essential services provision (with a primary healthcare focus) and utilization. Our insights and actional recommendations will help ensure a comprehensive overview of PHC service delivery challenges and priority reform areas. We’ll also undertake qualitative assessments from the perspective of both service providers (supply-side) and service users (demand-side) to close key evidence gaps on essential health services trends, gaps, and Covid-19 impact.
Efforts under this area of work include:
To explore healthcare provider and service user perspectives on healthcare financing bottlenecks in the context of Covid-19, we will review health financing bottlenecks, including insurance, contracting, and provider payment mechanisms. We’ll then provide actionable recommendations focused on the delivery of essential services and the Covid-19 response. Our research will contribute to better understanding of health financing bottlenecks and provider’s perceptions of promising strategies, like service contracting.
Efforts under this area of work include:
In May 2020, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) launched the activity “Support to Address Outbreak of COVID-19 and Strengthen Preparedness for Communicable Diseases in South Asia.” With coronavirus cases rapidly climbing throughout the region, the outbreak is undermining health systems and disrupting all aspects of society. To help reduce the pandemic’s negative impacts on health and human capital, ADB launched the project to provide technical assistance in Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, and Sri Lanka as the countries fight and attempt to recover from the pandemic.
ThinkWell supports this project’s work in Bangladesh. With our health expertise, we help develop health policy actions in response to the Covid-19 pandemic in Bangladesh. Specifically, we support the Government of Bangladesh to improve and develop relevant policy actions with a focus on the response to the Covid-19 crises. We also support the ADB to prepare relevant policy actions for the ADB’s social protection program.
The proposed ABD loan advances policy-based lending (PBL) for social protection due to Covid-19 pandemic. This result-based loan mechanism is new for both Bangladesh’s Ministry of Finance (MOF) and Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MOHFW). Through this project, we are identifying relevant health policy actions in consultation with MOHFW for the loan document.
ADB is processing a budget loan for the Government of Bangladesh as part of Covid-19 response with a primary focus on social protection programs in Bangladesh. The loan will cover the issues of (i) response to the Covid-19 crises, (ii) improvement in social protection programs and schemes (along with health-related social protections), and (iii) a financial inclusion strategy. ThinkWell’s Bangladesh team will work on the health policy actions that are related to the Covid-19 response and social protection.
ThinkWell’s team collaborates with the ABD team as well as with the MOF and the MOHFW of Bangladesh to identify and formulate reasonable health policy action for the ADB’s proposed loan document. The health policy actions need to be realistic, impactful, and achievable as well as related to social protection programs.
This activity is one of the first of its kind to include health policy actions for loan disbursement in Bangladesh. The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare is new to developing policy actions for loan documents.
In Bangladesh, ThinkWell is delivering locally-generated evidence and contextual expertise to transform the Surjer Hashi Network (SHN) – one of the largest private healthcare network in Bangladesh – into a self-sustainable, pro-poor social enterprise.
The guiding vision for the SHN is to become “a sustainable network of clinics, offering high quality, customer-oriented, and affordable healthcare services for the poor.” With funding from USAID, and with a network of local and international partners, ThinkWell is supporting the development a business strategy, revenue generation plan, and an innovative service delivery model to maximize both client impact and cost recovery.
We lead a social enterprise incubator for the SHN, helping to cultivate, nurture, and prototype ideas, strategies and approaches with the potential to increase the sustainability and impact of the network.
The long-term sustainability and growth of SHN depends on its ability to provide reliable and affordable high-quality services. Building on this base, it will be necessary for SHN to attract outside investments (from both private capital and the Government of Bangladesh), to develop strategic partnerships, to establish referral linkages to higher level health services, and to diversify its income streams.
One of the key challenges facing SHN is striking a balance between increasing the rate of cost recovery (to ensure the long-term sustainability of the network) and ensuring that services remain accessible to clients, regardless of their ability to pay. ThinkWell has provided cross-spectrum support to identify operational costs savings, as well as identify opportunities for increased revenue generation.
Using innovative, context-specific strategies to test, evaluate, and iterate system improvements, we are strengthening the social enterprise’s capacity to respond to marginalized people’s needs. All efforts to improve services within the network are developed through a rigorous prototyping process in a range of business-critical areas including: service package design, equitable pricing, customer satisfaction and business growth.
To support SHN on the road to sustainability, we help through activities such as creating different revenue diversification strategies and implementation plans as well as establishing partnerships with government and private organizations.
We bring evidence-based insights to SHN’s leadership to help inform critical business decisions, including, for example, modelling the financial and health impacts of extending clinic opening hours or introducing specialist doctors within higher volume facilities. Our practical, embedded approach also includes supporting the SHN to develop work plans, financial projects and service development budgets for the future to help support sustainable growth.
Through these and many other areas of support, ThinkWell uses innovation, evidence, and a close partnership with front-line stakeholders to help deliver sustainable, smart growth for the Sujer Hashi Network and impact for the clients who rely on its affordable services.
In 2012, ThinkWell was contracted by the World Bank to lead Bangladesh’s Health Nutrition and Population Sector Development Program (HPNSDP) Annual Program Reviews (APRs), which monitor progress in the health sector program in Bangladesh. ThinkWell conducted a full analysis of 32 operational plans across the health sector in Bangladesh, wrote an executive summary and recommendations report, and generated a presentation summarizing overall findings.
This review assessed progress in seven thematic areas: procurement; urban health; disease control; maternal, newborn, and child health (MNCH); information, education, and communication/behavior change communication (IEC/BCC), nutrition, and public financial management. The results of the analysis was presented to more than 300 stakeholders, including ministers, secretaries, and other senior government officials from across the Bangladeshi public sector.
Based on the findings and recommendations of the review, the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare made strategic modifications to accelerate improvements across each of the 32 operational plans that guide the Ministry’s work.
ThinkWell provided technical expertise, analysis, and managerial and logistical support to a Joint Donor Technical Assistance Fund (JDTAF) in Bangladesh. JDTAF participants hailed from a wide range of bilateral and multilateral donor agencies.
The fund financed technical assistance in support of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare’s (MOHFW’s) 32 operational plans. Reporting to the Senior Secretary for Health, ThinkWell staff identified and documented technical assistance needs across the health sector, developed scopes of work for the assistance, worked closely with the MOHFW Planning Wing line directors to prepare for presentations to the multi-donor Technical Assistance Committee, and supported Committee meetings.
ThinkWell provided technical assistance to the Third Primary Education Development Programme (PEDP3) of Bangladesh by examining the use of sector budget support disbursements. This was done through reviewing and verifying the backup for audit reports. We also conducted a risk-monitoring analysis for a basket fund for PEDP3. The fund involved the Ministry of Primary and Mass Education (MOPME) and other ministries working in the education sector. ThinkWell additionally supported strengthening the public financial management around vulnerabilities to ultimately ensure a strong use of the funds.
ThinkWell made recommendations based on the analysis and provided technical assistance and capacity development to implement those recommendations. As a result, the government has strengthened its fiduciary management of the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID) funds for education.
Photo credit: (c) 2006 Zahidul Karim Salim, courtesy of Photoshare