Strengthening health systems

Children need strong, resilient and inclusive health systems to survive and thrive.

A smiling doctor holds a young girl who underwent treatment in his hospital.
UNICEF/UN0162310/Tremeau

In recent decades, the world has made significant strides improving health outcomes for children and adolescents. But inequities among and within countries persist. Especially in low- and middle-income countries, millions of children do not have access to quality health care and services.

In some places, health facilities are too far or expensive to reach. In others, facilities lack the medical supplies or trained personnel necessary to deliver basic and essential care.

Without quality health care and services, children are more susceptible to illness, environmental hazards and the devastating effects of humanitarian emergencies. They are also more likely to face challenges going to and staying in school – with consequences that ripple across society.

Fragile health systems can undermine progress in other areas. When disease outbreaks occur, nutrition services and water, sanitation and hygiene facilities come under strain. In many humanitarian settings, more children die from diseases linked to unsafe drinking water and sanitation than from direct violence.

A team of health workers go door to door in a village to ensure every child has received a polio vaccination.
UNICEF/UN0198137/Nazer
Daeng Xayaseng, Maternal and Child Health Manager, and her team go door to door to ensure every child has received a polio vaccination in Nampoung village, Vientiane Province, Lao People’s Democratic Republic.

UNICEF’s response

To help children survive and thrive, health systems need sufficient funding to be sustainable, resilient and inclusive.

Strengthening health systems is critical to the supply and delivery of quality, affordable primary health care and to the achievement of universal health coverage. It expands access to the most vulnerable children, and integrates services in health, nutrition, early childhood development, HIV and AIDS, and water, sanitation and hygiene.

UNICEF supports primary health care – especially at the community level. We work to ensure that appropriately trained and supervised health personnel are available, and collaborate with Governments on policy and regulatory issues related to health-care providers.

UNICEF focuses on the following areas to strengthen health systems across the globe:

Community health

UNICEF creates demand for and ensures the provision of affordable, high-quality essential health services, supporting community case management and integrating community health workers in formal health systems.

Quality of care

UNICEF works with Governments to improve the quality of newborn, child, adolescent and maternal health care – especially at the community level – through the development of culturally and age-appropriate health protocols and guidelines. We also train and equip health and allied personnel to better serve the needs of newborn babies, children, adolescents and their mothers.

Strengthening district-level health systems

UNICEF helps build local capacity for evidence-based planning, budgeting, management and monitoring of priority health interventions. We also help local health systems align with other sectors, and support contingency planning and emergency response.

Strengthening supply chains

UNICEF works with Governments and partners to strengthen supply chains crucial to the health sector.

Data and digital health

UNICEF supports Governments and partners in the collection, analysis and use of data – including in emergency settings – by strengthening health management and information systems, and introducing digital technologies.

Implementation research

Alongside Governments and partners, UNICEF supports research that monitors, maintains and improves the effectiveness of health policies, programmes and practices.

National investment and governance

In coordination with partners, UNICEF supports Governments in resource mobilization, public financial management and other fiscal activities designed to bolster primary health care, especially for the most vulnerable. We also help Governments guide and oversee decentralized levels of authority, and develop and implement national policies.

Resources

The UNICEF Health Systems Strengthening Approach

Learn more about our vision for, and approach to, health systems that reliably serve children, adolescents and women of reproductive age.


A Vision for Primary Health Care in the 21st Century

UNICEF and the World Health Organization explore how the international community can achieve universal health coverage and the Sustainable Development Goals.


UNICEF Health Strategy, 2016–2030

Read more about UNICEF’s approach to end preventable maternal, newborn and child deaths and promote the health and development of all children.