There is increasing acceptance of the importance of social values such as equity and fairness in health care priority setting (PS). However, equity is difficult to define: the term means different things to different people, and the ways it is understood in theory often may not align with how it is operationalized. There is limited literature on how development assistance partner organizations (DAP) conceptualize and operationalize equity in their health care prioritization decisions that affect low-income countries (LIC). This paper explores whether and how equity is a consideration in DAP priority setting processes.
This was a qualitative study involving 38 in-depth interviews with DAPs involved in health-system PS for LICs and a review of their respective webpages.
While several PS criteria were identified, direct articulation of equity as an explicit criterion was lacking. However, the criterion was implied in some of the responses in terms of prioritizing vulnerable populations. Where mentioned, respondents discussed the difficulties of operationalizing equity as a PS criterion since vulnerability is associated with several varying and competing factors including gender, age, geography, and income. Some respondents also suggested that equity could be operationalized in terms of an organization not supporting the pre-existing
Although several organizations’ webpages identify addressing inequities as a guiding principle, there were variations in how they spoke about its operationalization. While intersectionalities in vulnerabilities complicate its operationalization, if organizations explicitly articulate their equity focus the other organizations who also have equity as a guiding principle may, instead of focusing on the same aspect, concentrate on other dimensions of vulnerability. That way, all organizations will contribute to achieving equity in all the relevant dimensions.
Since most development organizations support some form of equity, this paper highlights a need for an internationally recognized framework that recognizes the intersectionalities of vulnerability, for mainstreaming and operationalizing equity in DAP priority setting and resource allocation. Such a framework will support consistency in the conceptualization of and operationalization of equity in global health programs. There is a need for studies which to assess the degree to which equity is actually integrated in these programs.