Priority-setting in global health

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In global health, priority-setting is a term used for the process and strategy of deciding which health interventions to carry out. Priority-setting can be conducted at the disease level (i.e. deciding which disease to alleviate), the overall strategy level (i.e. selective primary healthcare versus primary healthcare versus more general health systems strengthening), research level (i.e. which health research to carry out),[1] or other levels.[2]: 5 


Priority-setting is the act of deciding which health interventions to carry out, and can occur at several levels of granularity. Priority-setting can occur at the following levels:[1][2]: 5 [3]

  • health budget level (i.e. deciding how much to spend on health overall)
  • overall strategy level (i.e. selective primary healthcare versus primary healthcare versus more general health systems strengthening)
  • disease level (i.e. deciding which disease to alleviate)
  • intervention level within each disease (i.e. restricting to a specific disease and prioritizing among interventions for that disease)
  • drug level
  • research level (i.e. which health research to carry out)

Synonymous terms include "prioritization in health care and health research", "priority determination", "health priorities",[4] and "agenda-setting".[5]


Various metrics have been used to compare interventions. These include:

Who sets the priorities?[edit]

Priority-setting can be done by various actors. These include:

  • Governments: "In most countries, health spending by governments vastly outpaces international health aid, so governments set most health priorities."[8]
  • Non-profits and companies that assist governments
  • If a country is using a Health in All Policy (HiAP) approach, then priority-setting is done by stakeholders who do not directly deal with health.[3]
  • International organizations
  • Foundations
  • Private donors (including high-net-worth individuals and ultra-high-net-worth individuals): "A common outcome is a negotiated set of priorities that reflect some domestic needs and some technical, political, and economic considerations defined largely by the interests of donors."[6] In some highly aid-dependent countries, donors "have huge influence on health priorities".[8]

According to Devi Sridhar, professor of global health at the University of Edinburgh,[9] "the priorities of funding bodies largely dictate what health issues and diseases are studied".[10]

History of organizations and programs working on priority-setting[edit]

According to Amanda Glassman et al., global-level priority-setting has occurred since at least the 1980s, though these efforts have only focused on a few aspects.[6]

The following table is a timeline of organizations and programs working on priority-setting.

Years active Event Level at which prioritization occurred Metric or methods used Operating costs/funding level (in US$) Results and impact
1977–present WHO Model List of Essential Medicines is published.[6] Among medicines Produced explicit list of medicines. As of 2016, at least 156 countries have created national lists of essential medicines based on the WHO's model list.[11]
1984 Demographic and Health Surveys is conceived.[12] Improving data quality[6] 380,000,000 (from USAID as of 2011)[12] Data from the DHS has been analyzed by various papers.[12]
1987–1989 The Oregon Health Services Commission (HSC) is established to prioritize within the US Medicaid program.[6] The HSC would publish their first prioritized list of health services in 1993.[13]: 4  The HSC would be abolished in 2012.[14] Health services[13] Originally a cost-per-utility formula, but then expert judgment and a method of splitting health services into categories and ranking within categories[13]: 3  "This time greater emphasis is placed on preventive services and chronic disease management, reflecting the fact that providing health care before reaching crisis mode will prevent avoidable morbidity and mortality."[13]
1987–1990 Commission on Health Research for Development[1] is established in 1987 and would publish Health Research: Essential Link to Equity in Development in 1990.[15] Research Meetings with experts Produced several reports, including the final report, Health Research: Essential Link to Equity in Development. Resulted in the establishment of the Council on Health Research for Development (COHRED) to promote priority-setting in low- and middle-income countries.
? Essential National Health Research
1993 Disease Control Priorities in Developing Countries is published by the Disease Control Priorities Project.[6][16] Disability-adjusted life year[4][6]
1993 The World Bank publishes the 1993 World Development Report.[6] Health interventions[17]: 14  Disability-adjusted life year[18]
1994 World Health Organization's Ad Hoc Committee on Health Research Relating to Future Intervention Options (AHC)[1] Research and development Produced the 1996 report "Investing in Health Research and Development".
1995 Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys[6] Improving data quality
1998 WHO-CHOICE, a program that helps countries choose health system priorities, is developed.[4][6][19][20]
1998 Global Forum for Health Research[1] Research and development Structured interviews and literature review Produced a list of 17 priorities.
2000 Council on Health Research and Development[1] Review of previous efforts
2001 Center for Global Development[21]
2002 Marginal budgeting for bottlenecks[4] (the World Bank, UNICEF, and WHO) is conceived.
2003 The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announces the Grand Challenges in Global Health,[1] for which it initially provides $200 million in funding.[7] Research and development Scientific board 550,000,000 (from the Gates Foundation as of 2008; smaller amounts from others not yet included) Out of more than 1000 submissions, 14 were selected by the scientific board as "grand challenges".[1]
2003 The initial version of the Lives Saved Tool (LiST) by Johns Hopkins University[4][6] is created.[22]
2004 Global Forum for Health Research develops the "Combined Approach Matrix" (CAM).[1] Various (since CAM is a general method) CAM itself is the method, but takes into account disease burden, present level of knowledge, cost-effectiveness, macro-economic policies, etc. Rudan et al.: "The tool has proven to be highly useful for systematic classification, organization, and presentation of the large body of information that is needed at different stages of priority setting process, so that the decisions made by the members of decision-making committees could be based on all relevant and available information, rather than their own personal knowledge and judgment."[1]
2004 The Copenhagen Consensus (which focuses on aid and development in general, and not just global health) holds its first conference.[2]: 5 
2005 Health Metrics Network launches. The partnership would dissolve in 2013.[23] Improving data quality[6] 50,000,000 (initially, by the Gates Foundation; see Health Metrics Network § Funding for more) Various
2006 Second edition of Disease Control Priorities in Developing Countries by the Disease Control Priorities Project[24] is published.[16]
2007 The Lancet publishes a series of papers on priorities in international health.[1] Research Delphi method
2007 Health Intervention and Technology Assessment Program is established. Various
2007 Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation launches. Improving data quality, burden of disease 105,000,000 (initial grant, mainly from the Gates Foundation)
2008 Supporting Independent Immunization and Vaccine Advisory Committees Initiative (SIVAC) is founded.[6][25] Among vaccines
2009 EVIDEM Collaboration (Evidence and Value: Impact on Decision Making) is established.[6][26] Health interventions[26] Literature review, "discussions with stakeholders", and multicriteria decision analysis (MCDA)[27]
2013 International Decision Support Initiative launches as the result of a Center for Global Development working group. Health interventions 12,800,000 (from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for phase 2 of operations)[28][29]


The result of a myriad of actors championing a kaleidoscope of "priorities" is confusion. Advocates, researchers, and policy makers have labeled almost every disease, condition, medication, or intervention a "health priority."

— Glassman et al.[6]

Rudan et al. says that priority-setting efforts have relied on "consensus reached by panels of experts" and as a result have not been systematic enough, and that this has "often made it difficult to present the identified priorities to wider audiences as legitimate and fair".[1]

Glassman et al. notes that criticisms of priority-setting include "the weak data on which estimates of burden, cost, and effectiveness relied; the value judgments implicit in disability-adjusted life year age weighting and discounting decisions; and treatment of equity issues, as well as the political difficulties associated with translating a ground zero package into a public budget based on historical inputs"; and the consideration of only health maximization at the expense of other objectives such as fairness.[6]: 16 

Glassman et al. also notes how there are more cost-effectiveness studies for LMICs (in the thousands), but that these are unlikely to be actually applied to priority-setting processes.[6]: 16 

Jeremy Shiffman has said that some bodies such as the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation and The Lancet are prominent in priority-setting due to their dominion rather than data and analysis, and also notes that the process of creating the Sustainable Development Goals was not sufficiently transparent.[30]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Igor Rudan; et al. (October 2007). "Setting Priorities in Global Child Health Research Investments: Assessment of Principles and Practice". Croat Med J. 48 (5): 595–604. PMC 2205967. PMID 17948946.
  2. ^ a b c Durand-Bourjate, Yannick (February 2010). "Setting Priorities in Health Interventions" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-07-05. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  3. ^ a b "Call for Abstracts: Priority Setting for Universal Health Coverage" (PDF). Prince Mahidol Award Conference 2016. Retrieved June 23, 2016.
  4. ^ a b c d e f Rudan I, Kapiriri L, Tomlinson M, Balliet M, Cohen B, Chopra M (July 13, 2010). "Evidence-Based Priority Setting for Health Care and Research: Tools to Support Policy in Maternal, Neonatal, and Child Health in Africa". PLOS Medicine. 7 (7): e1000308. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000308. PMC 2903581. PMID 20644640.
  5. ^ Shiffman, Jeremy; Smith, Stephanie (2007). "Generation of political priority for global health initiatives: a framework and case study of maternal mortality" (PDF). The Lancet. 370 (9595): 1370–1379. doi:10.1016/s0140-6736(07)61579-7. PMID 17933652. S2CID 5870284. Retrieved 2016-07-26.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r Glassman, Amanda; Chalkidou, Kalipso; Giedion, Ursula; Teerawattananon, Yot; Tunis, Sean; Bump, Jesse B.; Pichon-Riviere, Andres (March 2012). "Priority-Setting Institutions in Health". Global Heart. 7 (1): 13–34. doi:10.1016/j.gheart.2012.01.007. ISSN 2211-8160. PMID 25691165.
  7. ^ a b c Bloom, Barry R.; Michaud, Catherine M.; La Montagne, John R.; Simonsen, Lone (2006). "Priorities for Global Research and Development of Interventions". In Dean T. Jamison; Joel G. Breman; Anthony R. Measham; et al. (eds.). Disease Control Priorities in Developing Countries (2nd ed.). Washington (DC): World Bank. ISBN 978-0-8213-6179-5. PMID 21250329. Retrieved 2016-06-30.
  8. ^ a b "A conversation with Amanda Glassman on November 13, 2013" (PDF). GiveWell. November 13, 2013. Retrieved June 21, 2016.
  9. ^ "Centre for Population Health Sciences - People". September 30, 2015. Retrieved July 27, 2016.
  10. ^ Sridhar, Devi (2012-09-25). "Who Sets the Global Health Research Agenda? The Challenge of Multi-Bi Financing". PLOS Med. 9 (9): –1001312. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001312. ISSN 1549-1676. PMC 3457927. PMID 23049485.
  11. ^ "The WHO Essential Medicines List (EML): 30th anniversary". World Health Organization. Retrieved June 26, 2016.
  12. ^ a b c "A systematic review of Demographic and Health Surveys: data availability and utilization for research". World Health Organization. September 1, 2011. Retrieved July 20, 2016.
  13. ^ a b c d Bob DiPrete and Darren Coffman (March 2007). "A Brief History of Health Services Prioritization in Oregon" (PDF). Retrieved July 2, 2016.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  14. ^ "Health Evidence Review Commission Prioritized List Overview". Retrieved July 2, 2016.
  15. ^ "Health Research: Essential Link to Equity in Development" (PDF). Oxford University Press. 1990.
  16. ^ a b "About the Project". Retrieved March 30, 2016.
  17. ^ Paalman, Maria; Bekedam, Henk; Hawken, Laura; Nyheim, David (1998-01-01). "A Critical Review of Priority Setting in the Health Sector: The Methodology of the 1993 World Development Report". Health Policy and Planning. 13 (1): 13–31. doi:10.1093/heapol/13.1.13. eISSN 1460-2237. ISSN 0268-1080. PMID 10178182.
  18. ^ Ruger, Jennifer Prah (January 2005). "The Changing Role of the WORLD BANK in Global Health". American Journal of Public Health. 95 (1): 60–70. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2004.042002. ISSN 0090-0036. PMC 1449852. PMID 15623860.
  19. ^ "WHO - WHO-CHOICE". World Health Organization. Retrieved June 23, 2016.
  20. ^ "WHO - Who we are". World Health Organization. Retrieved June 23, 2016.
  21. ^ "Priority-Setting Institutions for Global Health". Center for Global Development. Retrieved June 21, 2016.
  22. ^ Walker, Neff; Tam, Yvonne; Friberg, Ingrid K. (2013). "Overview of the Lives Saved Tool (LiST)". BMC Public Health. 13 (3): S1. doi:10.1186/1471-2458-13-S3-S1. ISSN 1471-2458. PMC 3847271. PMID 24564438.
  23. ^ "WHO's arrangement for hosting health partnerships and proposals for harmonizing WHO's work with hosted partnerships" (PDF). World Health Organization. January 18, 2013.
  24. ^ "New Initiative Will Assess Disease Control Priorities In Developing Countries". Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. September 2002. Retrieved June 21, 2016.
  25. ^ "SIVAC Initiative". International Vaccine Institute. Retrieved June 26, 2016.
  26. ^ a b "About us". EVIDEM Collaboration. Retrieved July 19, 2016.
  27. ^ "Decision criteria of the framework". EVIDEM Collaboration. Retrieved July 19, 2016.
  28. ^ "International Decision Support Initiative awarded US$12.8m grant from the Gates Foundation". iDSI. January 30, 2016. Retrieved May 26, 2016.
  29. ^ "National Institute for Health and Care Excellence". Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. December 2015.
  30. ^ Levine, Ruth E. (2015-03-04). "Power in global health agenda-setting: the role of private funding". International Journal of Health Policy and Management. 4 (5): 315–317. doi:10.15171/ijhpm.2015.51. ISSN 2322-5939. PMC 4417636. PMID 25905483.