Lessons from Sweden: Establishing a Strong Framework for Health Development

| October 21, 2011 | 0 Comments
By Simon Burchell (Wikimedia Commons)

Public health clinic in San Francisco El Alto, Totonucapan, Guatemala. Photo courtesy of Simon Burchell on Wikimedia Commons.

By Carlos Schmidt
Aid & Development Columnist

Over the last two decades, China has increased its foreign aid contributions and quickly become the biggest donor to Africa. However, Chinese foreign aid comes with no strings attached and, as the British government warned, “the unconditional aid and cheap loans to African governments risks driving back into debt countries, […] and undermines efforts to create democratic and accountable administrations.”[1]

Development has become increasingly complicated and diverse. Inevitably, as the case of China demonstrates, accountability and efficiency have fallen. Countries are placing more emphasis on providing aid for the sake of attention as ‘humanitarians,’ rather than actually helping emerging nations develop.

However, contrary to the Chinese scheme, Sweden focuses on building an equal partnership with its more than 100 recipients in order to create long-lasting, substantial development. Managed by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), Sweden’s foreign aid programme can serve as an example to not only China, but the rest of the world.

Since the early 2000s, Sida has established a close-knit relationship with the Guatemalan government with the aim to create good conditions for continued peace and to combat poverty.”[2]

Ravaged by a civil war in the 1980s and 1990s, Guatemala has one of the weakest and most unequal healthcare systems in Latin America. However, with the efforts of Sida, healthcare has been steadily improving since 2006. Sweden has maintained a strong advisory and supportive presence in Guatemala with the hopes of helping develop a stronger national healthcare system.[3] Trying to enhance access to medical care, Sida funded a project in the northern areas of Guatemala that sought to create a strong and effective link in Guatemala’s healthcare chains.

Sida trained locals to recognize acute symptoms of illness and pregnancy.  By raising awareness within the local communities, they increased the number of people receiving adequate healthcare. Locals can now recognize pregnancy complications and can quickly transport females to one of the nearby health units.[4]  These Sida-sponsored rural stations connect to a wider, regional health network. If any serious complications arise while a patient is at a rural station, doctors can quickly transport the patient to a nearby hospital.

According to statistics put forth by Sida and the Guatemalan government, “the number of childbirths that took place at some form of health-care facility rose by 20 per cent in the five districts.”[4]

What made the project so successful is the fact that Sida considers local traditions. Acknowledging that indigenous childbirth involves various rituals, the project facilitates traditional methods to increase confidence and collaboration from the rural populace.

On top of improving the northern Guatemalan healthcare chain, Sida funded an aggressive vaccination campaign against measles and rubella. Today, most children have immunity towards these diseases.[4] The vaccination campaign impressed the Guatemalan authorities, leading them to implement several components of the project into national policy in early 2011.[5]

Sweden’s model stands apart because of its holistic and substantial approach. When providing aid, a country should not just merely ‘dump’ resources, but rather establish benchmarks and a strong framework. Sida’s work in Guatemala not only provided short-term medical relief, but also established the roots for a better national healthcare system in the long-term.


[1] McGreal, Chris. “Chinese aid to Africa may do more harm than good, warns Benn.” The Guardian. 7 Feb. 2007 <http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2007/feb/08/development.topstories3>.

[2] “Better health-care chain improves health of women and children.” Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency. 6 May 2010 <http://www.sida.se/English/Countries-and-regions/Latin-America/Guatemala/Programmes-and-projects1/Better-health-care-chain-improves-health-of-women-and-children/>.

[3] “Suecia continuará con ayuda al país para atender salud materno-infantil y combate a la desnutrición.” Pan American Health Organization. 10 Dec. 2011 <http://new.aho.org/gut/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=402&Itemid=2>.

[4] “Better health-care chain improves health of women and children.” Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency. 6 May 2010 <http://www.sida.se/English/Countries-and-regions/Latin-America/Guatemala/Programmes-and-projects1/Better-health-care-chain-improves-health-of-women-and-children/>.

[5] “Modelo de Atención Integral en Salud beneficiará a toda la población, incluida la población rural e indígena.” Pan American Health Organization. 11 April 2011 <http://new.paho.org/gut/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=445&Itemid=212>.


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Category: Development, Online

About the Author ()

Hailing from El Salvador, Carlos is a freshman thinking of concentrating in Environmental Science and Public Policy. Aside from writing for the HCGHR, Carlos is avidly involved with the different Latin@ organizations on campus and is an intern at both ReVista: Harvard Review of Latin America and the Center for European Studies. When he is not jogging along the Charles or spending his afternoons among the stacks of Lamont, Carlos loves receiving e-mails at cschmidt@college.harvard.edu.

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