Southern social world-regionalisms: The place of health in nine African regional economic communities

Yeates, Nicola and Surender, Rebecca (2021). Southern social world-regionalisms: The place of health in nine African regional economic communities. Global Social Policy, 21(2) pp. 191–214.



This article presents key results from a comparative qualitative Social Policy study of nine African regional economic communities’ (RECs) regional health policies. The article asks to what extent has health been incorporated into RECs’ public policy functions and actions, and what similarities and differences are evident among the RECs. Utilising a World Health Organization (WHO) framework for conceptualising health systems, the research evidence routes the article’s arguments towards the following principal conclusions. First, the health sector is a key component of the public policy functions of most of the RECs. In these RECs, innovations in health sector organisation are notable; there is considerable regulatory, organisational, resourcing and programmatic diversity among the RECs alongside under-resourcing and fragmentation within each of them. Second, there are indications of important tangible benefits of regional cooperation and coordination in health, and growing interest by international donors in regional mechanisms through which to disburse health and -related Official Development Assistance (ODA). Third, content analysis of RECs’ regional health strategies suggests fairly minimal strategic ambitions as well as significant limitations of current approaches to advancing effective and progressive health reform. The lack of emphasis on universal health care and reliance on piecemeal donor funding are out of step with approaches and recommendations increasingly emphasising health systems development, sector-wide approaches (SWAPs) and primary health care as the bedrock of health services expansion. Overall, the health component of RECs’ development priorities is consistent with an instrumentalist social policy approach. The development of a more comprehensive sustainable world-regional health policy is unlikely to come from the African Continental Free-Trade Area, which lacks requisite social and health clauses to underpin ‘positive’ forms of regional integration.

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