Engaging private health providers in the COVID-19 era

Published on 3 December 2020

This session has been designed to meet the needs of health advisers and those from the wider health network and from other cadres with an interest in health. It is a ‘tailor made’ version of a successful course which, in its latest offering, reached 569 participants in more than 50 countries, supported by the Global Financing Facility and the FCDO, with inputs from the World Health Organization. More information on the Managing Markets for Health learning programme can be found here: www.managingmarketsforhealth.org

Why this session now?

Governments and their partners are seeking to increase health system capacity to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and to regain the momentum behind longer term objectives, such as Universal Health Coverage (UHC).

The private sector, which provides a substantial proportion of health services in most low- and middle-income countries (and a majority of health services in many), represents an important, potential but frequently untapped source of capacity for these objectives. In addition, governments are often concerned about the high cost and inaccessibility of services in the private sector, and its variable compliance with clinical and reporting standards.

For both these reasons – the need to maximise system capacity, and to align providers’ behaviours and incentives with national health policy objectives, in the current emergency conditions and in ‘normal’ times – most governments need to exercise better, more effective governance of the private health sector.

This session focused on how to do this, and included a discussion of:

  • How service providers’ incentives can be re-shaped through market systems approaches.
  • How contracts can be used to purchase services critical to the COVID-19 response.
  • How the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted on the private health sector, and the related opportunities and risks created for policy makers in LMICs in tackling the emergency and ‘building back better’ for UHC in its aftermath.

​​​​Learning objectives

  1. To give an introduction to market systems analysis in health and how this can be used to define clear, logical, effective policies with regard to the private health sector.
  2. To increase understanding of the use of the contracts during ‘emergency’ and ‘normal’ policy contexts, the risks that this tool can give rise to, and how these can be mitigated in contexts of limited capacity.
  3. Attendees should, following the session, be capable of understanding how the private sector’s capacity can be harnessed, and service providers’ activities influenced, to strengthen COVID-19 response efforts and ‘build back better’ for UHC in its aftermath.

Supporting Resources


For this ‘tailor made’ session of the successful Managing Markets For Health (MM4H) learning course, which was built on a 100-page e-text, plus a series of supporting webinars and quizzes, participants were encouraged to read the following pages of the handbook:

Chapter 1. Pages 4-9

Chapter 2: Pages 20-22

Chapter 3: Pages 37-42


Particularly engaged learners might want to read chapters 1-3 in full.

Session providers

Session 5 was delivered by Dr. Mark Hellowell, Director, Global Health Policy, University of Edinburgh; Lead author, Managing Markets for Health: Sustaining access to essential health services during COVID-19 and lead on delivering the Managing Markets for Health (MM4H) course, redesigned to reflect the new reality and impact of COVID-19, supported with UK aid. David Elliott, a development economist and founding member at The Gallus Edge, a UK based Community Interest Company devoted to tackling global poverty and injustice.  Sneha Kanneganti who leads the Global Financing Facility (GFF) private sector engagement, which includes innovative financing, private sector partnerships, and technical assistance to country governments on private sector issues in health systems.


More information on the K4D Health Systems Strengthening Learning Journey can be found here.

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