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Gaceta Sanitaria

Print version ISSN 0213-9111

Abstract

UGALDE, A.  and  HOMEDES, N.. Descentralization of the health sector in Latin America. Gac Sanit [online]. 2002, vol.16, n.1, pp. 18-29. ISSN 0213-9111.  http://dx.doi.org/10.1590/S0213-91112002000100004.

This paper analyzes the Latin American experience of decentralizing health services within the context of health reform. We examine the meaning of the term decentralization and discuss the various modalities of this concept: geographical, institutional and functional. The objectives that, in general, these objectives have not been achieved. After reviewing the literature and drawing on our own fieldwork, we conclude that in many instances the Latin American decentralization programas have produced results opposite to those intendeed, i.e., these programs have increased inequality and the cost of services and have reduced efficiency and quality of care.  We point out that existing information is insufficient to determine with exactitude whether the failure of decentralization is due to the selection of inappropriate policies or to failures in the implementation process. Decentralization is a complex political process, policy makers should decide on the modality of decentralization they wish to implement, estimate the costs, identify the potential obstacles that could surface during the implementation phase and provide solutions. We conclude by suggesting that the multilateral banks have erred by pressing governments to improvise the implementation of decentralization programs without taking into account the different historical, political and socioeconomic contexts.

Keywords : Centralization; Decentralization; Latin America; Reform.

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