Public engagement in priority-setting for health is increasingly recognized as a means to ensure more ethical, inclusive and legitimate decision-making processes, especially in the context of Universal Health Coverage where demands outweigh the available resources and difficult decisions need to be made. Deliberative approaches are often viewed as especially useful in considering social values and balancing trade-offs, however, implementation of deliberative engagement tools for priority-setting is scant, especially in low- and middle-income settings. In order to address this gap, we implemented a context-specific public deliberation tool in a rural community in South Africa to determine priorities for a health services package. Qualitative data were analysed from seven group deliberations using the engagement tool.
The analysis focused on understanding the deliberative process, what the participants prioritized, the reasons for these selections and how negotiations took place within the groups. The deliberations demonstrated that the groups often considered curative services to be more important than primary prevention which related to the perceived lack of efficacy of existing health education and prevention programmes in leading to behaviour change. The groups engaged deeply with trade-offs between costly treatment options for HIV/AIDS and those for non-communicable disease. Barriers to healthcare access were considered especially important by all groups and some priorities included investing in more mobile clinics. This study demonstrates that deliberative engagement methods can be successful in helping communities balance trade-offs and in eliciting social values around health priorities. The findings from such deliberations, alongside other evidence and broader ethical considerations, have the potential to inform decision-making with regard to health policy design and implementation…more