The Role of International NGOs in Health Systems Strengthening: The Case of Timor-Leste

Publication Date:

01 May 2014


Mercer MA, Thompson SM, Araujo RM. (2014). The Role of International NGOs in Health Systems Strengthening: The Case of Timor-Leste. Int J Health Serv. 4(2), 323–335. doi: 10.2190/HS.44.2.i



Achieving the United Nations Millennium Development Goals for health will require that programs supporting health in developing countries focus on strengthening national health care systems. However, the dominant neoliberal model of development mandates reduced public spending on health and other social services, often resulting in increased funding for nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) at the expense of support for government systems. East Timor, later Timor-Leste, is an example of a post-crisis country where international NGO efforts were initially critical to providing relief efforts to a traumatized population. Those groups were not prepared to help develop and support a standardized Timorese national health plan, however, and the cost of their support was unsustainable in the long term. In response, local authorities designed and implemented a post-crisis NGO phase-over plan that addressed risks to service disruption and monitored the process. Since then, some NGOs have worked collaboratively with the Ministry of Health to support specific efforts and initiatives under a framework provided by the ministry. Timor-Leste has shown that ministries of health can facilitate an effective transition of NGO support from crisis to development if they are allowed to plan and manage the process.


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