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Obstacles to implementation of an intervention to improve surgical services in an Ethiopian hospital: a qualitative study of an international health partnership project.

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Aveling, Emma-Louise  ORCID logo
Zegeye, Desalegn Tegabu 
Silverman, Michael 


BACKGROUND: Access to safe surgical care represents a critical gap in healthcare delivery and development in many low- and middle-income countries, including Ethiopia. Quality improvement (QI) initiatives at hospital level may contribute to closing this gap. Many such quality improvement initiatives are carried out through international health partnerships. Better understanding of how to optimise quality improvement in low-income settings is needed, including through partnership-based approaches. Drawing on a process evaluation of an intervention to improve surgical services in an Ethiopian hospital, this paper offers lessons to help meet this need. METHODS: We conducted a qualitative process evaluation of a quality improvement project which aimed to improve access to surgical services in an Ethiopian referral hospital through better management. Data was collected longitudinally and included: 66 in-depth interviews with surgical staff and project team members; observation (135 h) in the surgery department and of project meetings; project-related documentation. Thematic analysis, guided by theoretical constructs, focused on identifying obstacles to implementation. RESULTS: The project largely failed to achieve its goals. Key barriers related to project design, partnership working and the implementation context, and included: confusion over project objectives and project and partner roles and responsibilities; logistical challenges concerning overseas visits; difficulties in communication; gaps between the time and authority team members had and that needed to implement and engage other staff; limited strategies for addressing adaptive-as opposed to technical-challenges; effects of hierarchy and resource scarcity on QI efforts. While many of the obstacles identified are common to diverse settings, our findings highlight ways in which some features of low-income country contexts amplify these common challenges. CONCLUSION: We identify lessons for optimising the design and planning of quality improvement interventions within such challenging healthcare contexts, with specific reference to international partnership-based approaches. These include: the need for a funded lead-in phase to clarify and agree goals, roles, mutual expectations and communication strategies; explicitly incorporating adaptive, as well as technical, solutions; transparent management of resources and opportunities; leadership which takes account of both formal and informal power structures; and articulating links between project goals and wider organisational interests.



Ethiopia, Partnership, Patient safety, Quality improvement, Surgery, Delivery of Health Care, Ethiopia, Hospitalization, Hospitals, Humans, International Cooperation, Leadership, Longitudinal Studies, Patient Safety, Qualitative Research, Quality Improvement, Surgery Department, Hospital, Surgical Procedures, Operative

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BMC Health Serv Res

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Springer Science and Business Media LLC
Wellcome Trust (097899/Z/11/Z)
This research was supported by funding from a Wellcome Trust Senior Investigator Award [WT097899M]. The Wellcome Trust had no role in the design or conduct of the research.