Open Access Research article

Mapping of health system functions to strengthen priority programs. The case of maternal health in Mexico

Miguel A González-Block1*, Mariel Rouvier1, Victor Becerril1 and Paola Sesia2

Author Affiliations

1 National Institute of Public Health, Av. Universidad 655 Col. Santa María Ahuacatitlán. Cuernavaca, Morelos, 62100, México

2 Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores en Antropología Social. Oaxaca, Mexico

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BMC Public Health 2011, 11:164  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-11-164

Published: 15 March 2011



Health system strengthening is critical to ensure the integration and scaling-up of priority health promotion, disease prevention and control programs. Normative guidelines are available to address health system function imbalances while strategic and analytical frameworks address critical functions in complex systems. Tacit knowledge-based health system constructs can help identify actors' perspectives, contributing to improve strengthening strategies. Using maternal health as an example, this paper maps and analyses the health system functions that critical actors charged with formulating and delivering priority health programs consider important for their success.


Using concept mapping qualitative and statistical methods, health system functions were mapped for different categories of actors in high maternal mortality states of Mexico and at the federal level. Functions within and across maps were analyzed for degree of classification, importance, feasibility and coding.


Hospital infrastructure and human resource training are the most prominent functions in the maternal health system, associated to federal efforts to support emergency obstetric care. Health policy is a highly diffuse function while program development, intercultural and community participation and social networks are clearly stated although less focused and with lower perceived importance. The importance of functions is less correlated between federal and state decision makers, between federal decision makers and reproductive health/local health area program officers and between state decision makers and system-wide support officers. Two sets of oppositions can be observed in coding across functions: health sector vs. social context; and given structures vs. manageable processes.


Concept mapping enabled the identification of critical functions constituting adaptive maternal health systems, including aspects of actor perspectives that are seldom included in normative and analytical frameworks. Important areas of divergence across actors' perceptions were identified to target capacity strengthening efforts towards better integrated, performing health systems.