All posts by Yilena B Jimenez

Vertical vs. Horizontal Approach: The drawbacks of each and a need for a merging or “diagonal” approach

When thinking about how to address health problems around the world there were two ideas that seem to arise, vertical and horizontal approaches. The vertical approach being a disease specific top-down approach that makes it easier to obtain funding and measure results and the horizontal approach being a more comprehensive approach that seeks to treat all the underlying issues a population that cause various diseases and health problems but that is more abstract.

These approaches are also intrinsically related to the debate of Magic Bullets vs. Primary Care and even in the debate of Comprehensive Primary vs. Selective Primary Care. The vertical model relies on the use of magic bullets, simple and fast acting biomedical advances, in order to implement their programs. When a so-called magic bullet is available and completely effective a vertical approach would be successful as you can reach many people give them a one-time treatment and solve the specific health problem.

The issue arises because there doesn’t exist a magic bullet for the vast majority of diseases that developing countries face, therefore when global health organizations come into these countries with specific disease approaches they are overlooking the structural factors that give rise to health concerns. Comprehensive Primary Care aims to be the opposite of this; it is basically a horizontal approach. The issue there, of course are concerns over cost-effectiveness. Quick-fix and Magic bullet programs come out with a much better ranking in regards to cost-effectiveness which favors downstream medical interventions and finds upstream interventions, such a school-based programs largely ineffective, because it will take several years for the health effects to take place and even when they do it is not easily measurable.

You see this sort of idealistic approach and mentality at the Alma-Ata conference in 1975, with the desire of “Health Care for all by year 2000”. But this model was ultimately unsuccessful and the Selective Primary Care Model that emphasized GOBI (growth monitoring, oral rehydration therapy, breast feeding and Immunizations) triumphed. Selective Primary Care operates more as a vertical approach even primary care in the name because it emphasized only specific issues. While it was an “interim” strategy there were never plans of shifting to more comprehensive primary care.

These two approaches seem like they would have to be competing ideologies, where only one can be correct. I believe that this is not necessarily true. Because both of these approaches have considerable drawbacks and unintended consequences of implementation, the merging of both these approaches would actually increase the benefits while minimizing the risks and drawbacks. In an article by Gorik Ooms, he addresses this as a need for a “diagonal” approach. He suggests that we should be aiming for “disease-specific results but through improved health systems”. This is an interesting idea and definitely important to consider when planning and designing interventions. I believe it is possible to create a new approach that will be more effective; it will however require funding and commitment. Tore Godal suggests the shifting to a Global Health fund that would “consolidate towards a global health fund with one health sector funding channel”. He argues that with an increase in funding and supplies it is possible through a unified effort to simultaneously achieve disease-specific success while strengthening the health system.

Gijs Elzinga also discusses this in an editorial piece titled “Vertical-horizontal synergy of the health workforce” in which he states that while certain components of vertical programs are vertical in nature there is an interface when it comes to the delivery of interventions. Because intervention delivery requires the greatest number of workforce involvement, there is some room for the interventions to be more integrated into a horizontal system, in which health care workers seek to address all the issues. I think vertical approaches can enhance vertical horizontal collaborations and attempt to decrease the polarization of the vertical vs. horizontal debate. The use of more of the existing personnel of healthcare workers is one way this can be achieved.

I believe the strength in this idea of a “diagonal approach” comes from not shifting to a horizontal approach overnight and the integration of the benefits of each. It is important to change the mentality around our approach as only being able to fit into these categories. Although pragmatism is important when it comes to implementation, we need to think about the long-term results and the programs sustainability. We need to implement programs that have the ability to change over time, shifting its goals with increasing resources.

Sources from Class:

Paul Farmer, e. A. (2013). Reimagining Global Health An Introduction.

Cueto 2004 The Origins of Primary Health Care and Selective Primary Health Care. American Journal of Public Health 94(11)1864-74

Outside sources:

“Vertical–horizontal Synergy of the Health Workforce.” WHO. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Oct. 2015.

“The ‘diagonal’ Approach to Global Fund Financing: A Cure for the Broader Malaise of Health Systems?” Globalization and Health. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Oct. 2015.

Discussions Questions:

  1. Do you think merging the different approaches that we have discussed will yield successful outcomes? Do you think it is possible to implement programs like this?
  2. Do you think the idealism of the Alma-Ata Declaration was influential in making change by getting people to talk about health, or did its lack of pragmatism and ability to be implemented render it basically useless?