Municipal health services provision by local governments: a systematic review of experiences in decentralized Sub-Saharan African countries

Hilaire Zon*, Milena Pavlova, Koine Maxime Drabo, Wim Groot

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journal(Systematic) Review article peer-review


'Four' types of decentralization are distinguished in health care: deconcentration when the shift in authority is to regional or district offices; devolution when the shift is to state, provincial or municipal governments; delegation when semi-autonomous agencies are granted new powers; and privatization when ownership is granted to private entities. This article systematically reviews the experiences of local governments of Sub-Saharan African countries with the provision of health services during and after decentralization reforms. The article highlights the achievements, challenges and issues associated with decentralization. The review shows that most countries have mainly focused on the process by enacting numerous policies, regulations and standards with mixed outcomes for health services delivery. Decentralization in general, and resource transfer from the central to local governments in particular, are a highly political issue that influences the health reform strategy on decentralization. The literature shows the complexity of implementing decentralization schemes which strongly impact the health service organization and delivery. The theory of decision space applied in a comparative analysis found that some functions, particularly financing, remain under the control of the central state. Despite the numerous challenges, this review identifies some good practices in resources transfer, key determinants being the type of decentralization and the government's will to make legislative and administrative changes required for the effectiveness of decentralization. The literature search, even though systematic, resulted in a limited number of relevant publications with evidence on the link between decentralization and health services delivery. This is a largely unexplored research area, especially the use of financial resources by local governments, the factors that drive local decision-making processes and the effects of decentralization on health care sector performance.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1327-1336
Number of pages10
JournalHealth Policy and Planning
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2017


  • Decentralization
  • health care
  • Sub-Saharan Africa
  • systematic review
  • decision space theory

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