Introduction: Zambia's under-resourced public health system will not be able to deliver on its health-related Millennium Development Goals without a substantial acceleration in mortality reduction. Reducing mortality will depend not only upon increasing access to health care but also upon improving the quality of care that is delivered. Our project proposes to improve the quality of clinical care and to improve utilization of that care,through a targeted quality improvement (QI) intervention delivered at the facility and community level.
Description of implementation: The project is being carried out 42 primary health care facilities that serve a largely rural population of more than 450,000 in Zambia's Lusaka Province. We have deployed six QI teams toimplement consensus clinical protocols, forms, and systems at each site. The QI teams define new clinical quality expectations and provide tools needed to deliver on those expectations. They also monitor the care that is provided and mentor facility staff to improve care quality. We also engage community health workers to actively refer and follow up patients.
Evaluation design: Project implementation occurs over a period of four years in a stepped expansion to six randomly selected new facilities every three months. Three annual household surveys will determine population estimates of age-standardized mortality and under-5 mortality in each community before, during, and after implementation. Surveys will also provide measures of childhood vaccine coverage, pregnancy care utilization, and general adult health. Health facility surveys will assess coverage of primary health interventions and measures of health system effectiveness.
Discussion: The patient-provider interaction is an important interface where the community and the health system meet. Our project aims to reduce population mortality by substantially improving this interaction. Our success will hinge upon the ability of mentoring and continuous QI to improve clinical service delivery. It will also be critical that once the quality of services improves, increasing proportions of the population will recognize their value and begin to utilize them.