Theses Doctoral

Health system strengthening in Bihar, India: three papers examining the implications on health facility readiness and performance

Jha, Ayan

Introduction: Bihar ranks among the most socio-economically disadvantaged states in India, and its public health system had long suffered from structural deficiencies which contributed to poor health outcomes. In November 2013, the Bihar government, with funding from Gates Foundation and technical support from CARE India, launched the state-wide Bihar Technical Support Program (BTSP) – seeking to address gaps in infrastructure, supply chain, and human resources, as well as the quality of service delivery, so as to improve reproductive, maternal, newborn and child health (RMNCH) and nutrition service provision. BTSP adopted a two-pronged strategy – conducting (i) periodic comprehensive facility assessments (CFAs) to identify and address the structural gaps; and (ii) nurse-mentoring programs to develop competency among nursing cadres in providing basic and comprehensive emergency obstetric and newborn care (BEmONC/ CEmONC) services. Through three inter-linked papers, the dissertation aimed to conduct an evidence-based assessment of this health system strengthening program. “Facility readiness” (structural readiness of public health facilities) was operationalized in terms of infrastructure, essential supplies, and human resources, while “facility performance” was operationalized based on the direct observation of normal vaginal deliveries and newborn care (including management of immediate complications if needed) and infection prevention practices in the labor rooms.

The first paper describes the evolution of BTSP, and examines the initial progress made in facility readiness between 2015 and 2016. The second paper: (i) conducts a comparative assessment of facility readiness between 2017 (at end of the first four years of BTSP) and 2019, and describes the continuation of progress or lack thereof; (ii) quantifies facility readiness through a scoring system that reflects the readiness to provide maternal and newborn care (MNC) services; and (3) compares the change in this score over time (2015, 2017 and 2019) across different districts and levels of health facilities in Bihar. Thus, the first and second papers together examine the extent to which Bihar’s public health facilities were structurally strengthened in terms of physical infrastructure, supplies and workforce by utilizing data from all four rounds of CFAs conducted till date. The third paper asks the next logical question in a health system strengthening process – was facility readiness positively and significantly associated with facility performance? This is an important query, as it aims to provide evidence of synergistic progress, as envisioned under BTSP. First, the paper examines whether the facility-level performance changed, by comparing baseline (May-December, 2018) and endline (October-December, 2019) assessment data from the nurse-mentoring program (locally called AMANAT Jyoti). Second, it assesses the association of facility readiness (based on CFA 2019 data) with endline facility performance in providing MNC services.

Methods: The first paper utilizes a structured, narrative review of scientific and grey literature to describe evolution of the BTSP since 2014, based on programmatic learnings through prior years (2011-2013) of collaborative vertical interventions. Subsequently, the paper measures the tangible change in select facility-level characteristics, utilizing quantitative data generated through two rounds of CFAs conducted by CARE India in 2015 (n=534 facilities) and 2016 (n=550 facilities). The second paper utilizes quantitative data generated through two rounds of CFAs conducted by CARE India in 2017 (n=550 facilities) and 2019 (n=552 facilities). Each CFAs covered all Level 2 (primary health centers) and Level 3 (higher-level facilities) public health facilities in Bihar that conducted at least 100 deliveries in the preceding year. Subsequently, the paper constructs a “facility-level MNC structural readiness score” – henceforth referred to as facility readiness score, based on a common set of indicators from CFA 2015, 2017 and 2019, to reflect human resources, infrastructure and essential supplies related to delivering MNC services. The paper uses this score to map the change at 2-year intervals, from 2015 to 2019, at both facility and district levels. The third paper utilizes quantitative data generated through two separate assessments conducted by CARE India – the 2019 CFA, and the 2018-2019 assessment of AMANAT Jyoti (nurse-mentoring program), which involved direct observation of normal vaginal deliveries, newborn care, and infection prevention practices in the labor rooms. The paper constructs baseline and endline facility-level MNC performance scores – henceforth referred to as facility performance scores based on data from AMANAT Jyoti assessments, and examines the association between endline facility performance and facility readiness scores.

While descriptive statistics was used to present findings from the CFAs and AMANAT Jyoti assessments, paired t tests were used to test the mean change in scores over time and between the different levels of facilities. The association between endline facility performance and facility readiness scores was tested using simple as well as multiple linear and multinomial logistic regression modelling.

Results: With a demonstrated intent to improve the ailing public health sector, the Bihar government in 2010 forged a collaboration with Gates Foundation to accelerate progress across RMNCH and nutrition programs. Through the Integrated Family Health Initiative program (IFHI, 2011-2013), outreach-based and facility-based solutions were implemented in eight programmatically-prioritized districts to address the stated goals. However, over this period, it became apparent that long-term success of such initiatives remained critically dependent on strengthening the foundational components of Bihar’s public health system –physical infrastructure, supply chain for drugs, consumables and equipment, and the skilled health workforce. These programmatic learnings motivated a re-think and consequent state-wide launch of the BTSP – characterized by a novel structure of health governance that was deeply embedded within the public health system, and a robust information management system that could generate, analyze and disseminate data on community- and facility-level services to support decision making.

The quantitative analyses of CFA data (in first and second papers) provided an assessment of the changes that happened at the level of health facilities, likely supported by the policy-level modifications.

There was a clear sense of prioritization of the limited resources – with constant focus on structurally preparing health facilities to deliver basic MNC services, more so at Level 2 (primary health centers). By 2019, at least 99% facilities at either level provided 24x7 delivery services and had designated labor rooms, 97% had designated newborn care corners which were mostly located inside the labor rooms, 70% or more had at least one functional fetal doppler, baby weighing machine, radiant warmer, and AMBU bag with neonatal oxygen masks. The improvement in availability of essential supplies like oxytocin, misoprostol, magnesium sulphate, antibiotics, and reproductive health commodities (condoms, intrauterine contraceptive devices, sanitary napkins, iron-folic acid tablets, contraceptive pills) were particularly notable during the 2017 and 2019 CFAs. However, the supply chain variably faltered for a number of other essential supplies like oral rehydration solutions, functional oxygen cylinders, normal saline and ringer lactate solutions. The data revealed that facility-level inefficiencies in utilizing the electronic inventory management system to accurately reflect actual status of supplies within the facility, likely compromised procurement and distribution. With regards to human resources, while a large number of auxiliary and general nurse midwives were available for service during CFA 2019, the BTSP faced continuing challenges (2015-2019) in recruiting and/or retaining physicians, especially the specialist physician cadres. By CFA 2019, these structural changes were also supported by remarkable improvements in two related services areas –availability of emergency transport, and laboratory services.

The comparison of facility readiness scores (second paper) based on CFA 2015, 2017 and 2019 showed that while the mean scores increased sharply for both Level 2 (increase=1.51 (95% confidence interval: 1.39, 1.63)) and Level 3 (1.39 (1.1, 1.69)) facilities between 2015 and 2017, the progress was less pronounced at both levels between 2017 and 2019. 25 of the 38 districts in Bihar demonstrated a continuous increase in mean scores over the 3 CFAs. As for the remaining 13 districts, their 2019 mean scores remained higher than that during 2015.

The analysis of AMANAT Jyoti assessment data (third paper) revealed improvements across 36 (80%) of the 45 performance parameters assessed through direct observation of deliveries between the baseline and endline. However, at least 80% compliance was observed for only 11 of 45 (24%) assessed parameters at baseline, and 16 of 45 (36%) at endline. The mean facility performance score increased significantly among both types and levels of facilities – but the increase was higher among Level 3 (mean increase = 1.56, p=0.0005, n=13) and CEmONC (1.82, p=0.0029, n=9) facilities, than among Level 2 (0.32, p =0.0288, n=121) and BEmONC (0.33, p=0.0168, n=125) facilities. The regression analysis failed to identify any linear relationship between facility readiness and performance scores. However, a significant positive association was observed between facility readiness score and the middle tertile of endline facility performance score (vs. lowest tertile as reference) in multiple multinomial logistic regression modeling (n=132 facilities). With increasing facility readiness score, the odds of a facility being in the middle tertile of the endline facility performance score relative to the lowest tertile was 1.68 (95% CI = 1.02, 2.76), after controlling for baseline facility performance score, mean delivery volume, and the facility level.

Conclusion: The BTSP can be best described as a diagonal health system strengthening initiative –one that starts with a focus on specific programmatic (RMNCH) outcomes, but strives to achieve these through identifying and addressing bottlenecks across the health system. The efforts made to revamp health governance through creating structures for technical support from the state- to block-levels is particularly laudable, as is the remarkable capacity building in collecting and using facility-level data to inform programs and policies. The dissertation identified that BTSP has made appreciable progress in structurally preparing Bihar’s public health facilities to deliver basic MNC services – with improvements in related infrastructure, essential supplies, and supportive services like referral transport and laboratory facilities, as well as through recruitment of large number of ANM and GNM nurses. However, the process encountered a number of challenges, and it may be worthwhile to adopt a targeted approach to address some of these concerns. For example, it is important that the BTSP works to equip all facilities with electronic inventory management systems, while simultaneously training the personnel using such systems. To circumvent the chronic shortage of specialist physicians, a “task shifting” approach may help maximize utilization of existing health workforce to strengthen service delivery capacity.

Further, the overall level of facility performance of MNC service delivery remained low at endline despite improvement from the baseline scores, and there was limited evidence of a significant positive association between facility readiness and performance scores. As these scores reflect the minimum essential requirements for a MNC service delivery setting, the BTSP clearly has challenges ahead. They must continue to address the persistent challenges in facility readiness and facility performance so that these two facility-level interventions will complement each other and influence outcomes. As the onus of this diagonal health system strengthening program incrementally shifts from development partners to the government, it will be important to recognize the significance and complexity of this effort.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Population and Family Health
Thesis Advisors
Santelli, John S.
Dr.P.H., Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University
Published Here
November 3, 2021