Good Governance Will Improve West African Health Systems

This story originally appeared on the Management Sciences for Health website.

One lesson from the recent Ebola crisis in West Africa is that well-managed health systems and well-governed ministries of health can help prevent epidemics. The USAID-funded Leadership, Management & Governance (LMG) Project, led by Management Sciences for Health (MSH), is helping the West African Health Organization (WAHO) and its member countries improve their governance, which will improve the performance of the region’s health systems, and, ultimately, help prevent future epidemics.

The WAHO senior leadership team, in partnership with the LMG Project, held a governance academy — an intensive, multi-day workshop — on March 25-27, 2015, in Bobo-Dioulasso, Burkina Faso. The purpose? Help WAHO officials from the 15 member countries (Nigeria, Ghana, Liberia, Gambia, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Mali, Niger, Senegal, Togo, Cote d’Ivoire, Benin, Burkina Faso, Guinea-Bissau, and Cape Verde) identify and address their own governance challenges and those among health ministries in the region.

The governance academy introduced the WAHO senior officials to key governance concepts using activities based on adult and experiential learning principles (e.g. experience sharing, brainstorming, discussing, assessing, responding to scenarios, and reflecting), and source materials, including the LMG Project’s governance guides and governance training facilitation handbooks, the governance chapter of MSH’s Health Systems in Action: An eHandbook for leaders and managers, and LMG’s eManager on governance.

The participants learned the rationale for investing in governance improvement; the five key practices of good governance (cultivating accountability, engaging stakeholders, setting shared strategic direction, stewarding resources, and continuous governance improvement); and how to apply these practices in their organizations. Said one participant*:

Sessions have practical exercises to enhance governance at [the] institutional level. With one session each on the five practices of good governance, we can now apply these practices in real life.

Using the organizing framework of the practices of good governance, the WAHO leadership team created a governance development plan for WAHO to advance the organization’s strategic objectives. This six-month action plan is currently under implementation. Said another participant:

We were able to distill specific and concrete governance activities for WAHO.

At the end of the academy, participants completed a self-assessment and knowledge of the good governance practices increased by 27 percent. Many participants viewed the academy experience useful for fulfilling their responsibilities. A third participant said:

This was one of the very rare moments when all WAHO top and senior management staff was able to reunite, thanks to WAHO General Director’s commitment, to discuss a critical area for improvement while agreeing on concrete next steps.

As a result of the academy, WAHO has decided to assess governance practices in three member countries, and will organize a capacity building workshop on governance for health ministry officials in these countries in September 2015.

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West African Health Organization member countries. Graphic by: Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS)

*Participants provided feedback anonymously through a post-academy assessment.

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