Strengthening fairness, transparency and accountability in health care priority setting at district level in Tanzania : opportunities, challenges and the way forward

Abstract: Background During the 1990s, Tanzania, like many other developing countries, adopted health sector reforms. The most common policy change under health sector reforms has been decentralisation, which involves the transfer of power and authority from the central levels to the local governments. However, while decentralisation of health care planning and priority-setting in Tanzania gained currency in the last decade, its performance has, so far, been less than satisfactory. In a five-year EU-supported project, which started in 2006, ways of strengthening fairness and accountability in priority-setting in district health management were studied through action research. As part of this overall project, this doctoral thesis aims to analyse the existing health care organisation and management systems, and explore the potential and challenges of implementing Accountability for Reasonableness approach to priority setting in Tanzania. Methods A qualitative case study in Mbarali district formed the basis of exploring the socio-political and institutional contexts within which health care decision-making takes place. The thesis also explores how the Accountability for Reasonableness intervention was shaped, enabled and constrained by the interaction between the contexts and mechanisms. Key informant interviews were conducted with the Council Health Management Team, local government officials, and other stakeholders, using a semi-structured interview guide. Relevant documents were also gathered and group priority-setting processes in the district were observed. Main findings The study revealed that, despite the obvious national rhetoric on decentralisation, actual practice in the district involved little community participation. The findings showed that decentralisation, in whatever form, does not automatically provide space for community engagement. The assumption that devolution to local government promotes transparency, accountability and community participation, is far from reality. In addition, the thesis found that while the Accountability for Reasonableness approach to priority setting was perceived to be helpful in strengthening transparency, accountability, stakeholder engagement and fairness, integrating the innovation into the current district health system was challenging.   Conclusion This thesis underscores the idea that greater involvement and accountability among local actors may increase the legitimacy and fairness of priority-setting decisions. A broader and more detailed analysis of health system elements, and socio-cultural context, can lead to better prediction of the effects of the innovation, pinpoint stakeholders’ concerns, and thereby illuminate areas requiring special attention in fostering sustainability. Additionally, the thesis stresses the need to recognise and deal with power asymmetries among various actors in priority-setting contexts.