UNDP’s approach to capacity development for health

What is meant by capacity development?

UNDP defines capacity development as the process through which individuals, organizations and societies obtain, strengthen and maintain the capabilities to set and achieve their own development objectives over time. Capacity development is fundamentally about unlocking transformative change, that is, change that is generated, guided and sustained by those whom it is meant to benefit. In the context of UNDP’s programme and policy support for health and development, capacity development represents a fundamental component that cuts across all areas of its work at the global, national and regional levels. This includes a particular emphasis on capacity development to improve the performance of national health systems, ensuring quality, equity, efficiency, accountability, resilience and sustainability.

UNDP operates strictly in support, and within the framework, of national health plans and disease-specific national strategies, under the leadership of national health authorities and acknowledging the crucial role of civil society, the private sector and technical partners. Promoting national ownership, developing capacity and strengthening national systems is central to UNDP’s engagement. It therefore operates through existing country systems to promote national ownership, including national health information systems, procurement and supply chain systems, and public financial management systems. It helps national entities to design and implement capacity development plans, address priority gaps and build greater resilience and sustainability.

As part of promoting sustainability, UNDP does not implement health programmes itself, but rather supports implementation by national governments, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and private sector entities. For example, in its role as interim Principal Recipient of the Global Fund grants, a primary focus is to build national capacities to enable the gradual and sustainable transfer of the Principal Recipient role to national entities while strengthening broader systems for health. Greater national ownership is also promoted by ensuring that programme performance indicators align with the objectives of national strategies.

Where does UNDP come in?

With its global reach, broad mandate and integrator role, UNDP is uniquely positioned to support the kind of systemic and structural change needed at the scale required to bring about sustainable, institutional transformation of systems for health. UNDP’s broad country presence and diverse experience in supporting national entities to implement large-scale public health programmes have allowed it to develop expertise and frameworks to support functional capacities identified as critical for efficient and effective systems for health. These include having trained and motivated health workers, a well-maintained infrastructure and a reliable supply of health commodities, backed by adequate funding, strong strategic plans and evidence-based policies.

This website details UNDP’s approach, processes, and tools for capacity development 1) within the context of health programme implementation and management, and 2) in support of building resilient and sustainable systems for health at national and sub-national levels. All UNDP support is complemented by capacity development. In some countries, UNDP’s support focuses only on strengthening systems for health, through the provision of technical assistance to ministries of health. For example, through government financing agreements with ministries of health in numerous countries, UNDP supports the procurement of health products while providing end-to-end capacity-building to enhance national supply chains.

The UNDP-Global Fund partnership: a key catalyst of capacity development

Among the key vehicles through which UNDP is able to provide end-to-end capacity development support to countries is its partnership with the Global Fund. When UNDP is called on to manage the Global Fund-funded HIV, TB, malaria and health systems-strengthening grants as interim Principal Recipient in countries facing special implementation challenges, a priority of this engagement is to develop the capacities of governments and/or civil society organizations to take over the grants when circumstances permit. The partnership’s contributions to making systems for health more resilient and helping countries to strengthen laws and policies not only supports the HIV, TB and malaria response, but also increases the capacity of health systems more broadly to work towards universal health coverage and other health-related SDGs. See the UNDP-Global Fund Partnership page for more information.

UNDP’s support includes the development of frameworks for effective programme management, monitoring and oversight; the training of implementing partners, including civil society and national coordinating bodies; assistance with assessing capacity gaps and developing capacity development and programme transition plans; and the domestic financing of health programmes. Core focus areas for UNDP’s support to strengthen the resilience and sustainability of systems for health include support for the development of national strategies, health management information systems, procurement and supply chain management systems, public financial management and internal audit systems, and human resources for health and community systems, and support for environmental sustainability, harnessing innovation and digital solutions for health.

This multidimensional support for systems for health is all the more crucial in the context of emerging global health threats, humanitarian crises, fragility and other challenging operating environments. UNDP’s support is focused on countries that are characterized by weak governance and poor access to health services, and that require dedicated programmes to develop capacity. UNDP takes a risk-informed approach to help national entities improve performance and quality, reduce inefficiencies and raise transparency and accountability for better health outcomes. This includes leveraging its existing risk management tools and frameworks. The nature of UNDP’s core development mandate also enables it to connect sectors, stakeholders and levels of action, helping countries translate goals into concrete programmes and measurable impacts on the ground. Its work to bridge the nexus between humanitarian action and development likewise helps to eliminate silos and strengthens countries’ resilience to shocks. In this way, UNDP’s capacity development support for systems for health benefits from an existing network of multi-stakeholder partnerships, cross-sector policy engagement and implementation expertise, and the ability to tap into lessons learned at global level and resources while providing highly contextualized and evidence-based action on the ground.

Guiding principles

The following principles guide UNDP’s approach to capacity development for resilient and sustainable systems for health:

  • Respecting and promoting human rights and gender equality, embodying fairness, integrity, and transparency, as set out in the United Nations Charter.
  • Building national ownership, capacity and resilience for effective and sustainable responses to HIV, health and related development challenges.
  • Ensuring meaningful engagement of people living with HIV, key populations, other excluded groups and affected communities, which is essential for effective governance.
  • Being risk-informed to effectively cope with and recover from conflict, natural disasters and other humanitarian crises.
  • Committing to continually building the evidence base for action.
  • Ensuring programme delivery based on value for money, facilitating services of the right quality, level and cost.
  • Fostering multi-sectoral action to tackle interconnected health and development challenges. This includes promoting national responses to both communicable and non-communicable diseases that extend beyond a focus on health services to also include policies on finance, agriculture, environment, urban planning, education and other “non-health” sectors.

Through these principles, UNDP has built a comprehensive multidimensional approach to capacity development for health based on a methodology developed and tested on the ground. The approach ensures that capacity gaps are identified and analysed and fed into prioritized capacity development plans and interventions, which are implemented and monitored against performance indicators.

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