When do vertical programmes strengthen health systems? A comparative assessment of disease-specific interventions in India

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Objective Disease-specific programmes have had a long history in India and their presence has increased over time. This study has two objectives: first, it reports on the interaction between local health systems and key disease-specific programmes in India—National AIDS Control Program (NACP) (HIV/AIDS), Revised National Tuberculosis Control Program (RNTCP) (TB) and National Vector Borne Disease Control Program (NVBDCP) (Malaria), and second, it examines which factors create an enabling environment for disease-specific programmes to strengthen health systems.Methods A total of 103 in-depth interviews were conducted in six states in 2009 and 2010. Key informants included managers of disease control programmes and health systems, central and state health ministry and staff from peripheral health facilities. Analytical themes were derived from the World Health Organization (WHO) building block and the Systems Rapid Assessment framework.Findings Disease-specific programmes contribute to strengthening some components of the health system by sharing human and material resources, increasing demand for health services by improving public perceptions of service quality, encouraging civil society involvement in service delivery and sharing disease-specific information with local health system managers. These synergies were observed more frequently in the RNTCP and NVBDCP compared with the NACP.Conclusions Disease-specific programmes in India are widely regarded as having made a substantial contribution in disease control. They can have both positive and negative effects on health systems. Certain conditions are necessary for them to have a positive influence on health systems—the programme needs to have an explicit policy to strengthen local health systems, and should also be embedded within the health system administration.

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