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Revista de Saúde Pública

Print version ISSN 0034-8910On-line version ISSN 1518-8787

Rev. Saúde Pública vol.54  São Paulo  2020  Epub June 10, 2020 

Original Article

Infrastructure and work process in primary health care: PMAQ in Ceará

Anya Pimentel Gomes Fernandes Vieira-MeyerI

Ana Patrícia Pereira MoraisII

José Maria Ximenes GuimarãesII

Isabella Lima Barbosa CampeloI  III

Neiva Francenely Cunha VieiraIV

Maria de Fátima Antero Sousa MachadoI  V

Paula Sacha Frota NogueiraIV

Sharmênia de Araújo Soares NutoI

Roberto Wagner Júnior Freire de FreitasI

IFundação Oswaldo Cruz Ceará. Eusébio, CE, Brasil

IIUniversidade Estadual do Ceará. Centro de Ciências da Saúde. Fortaleza, CE, Brasil

IIICentro Universitário Fanor. Curso de Enfermagem. Fortaleza, CE, Brasil

IVUniversidade Federal do Ceará. Faculdade de Farmácia, Odontologia e Enfermagem. Departamento de Enfermagem. Fortaleza, CE, Brasil

VUniversidade Regional do Cariri. Centro de Ciências da Saúde. Departamento de Enfermagem. Crato, CE, Brasil



To analyze the quality of the infrastructure and work process of the Family Health Strategy in the municipalities of Ceará between 2012 and 2014.


Cross-sectional study, using secondary data from the external evaluation of the 1st (2012) and 2nd (2014) cycle of the National Program for Improvement of Access and Quality of Primary Care in Ceará. A total of 20 composite indicators were used to verify the quality of infrastructure and work process.


Data from 183 (99.4%) of the 184 municipalities of Ceará were collected in both cycles. A total of 1,441 teams were evaluated for the infrastructure and 800 for the work process. Among the 20 composite indicators evaluated, 18 presented an improvement, but in a non-homogeneous way, ranging between 0.0 and 413.5%. We observed that the lower the initial value of the indicator, the greater the variation in quality between 2012 and 2014. The indicators of infrastructure and work process were influenced by the regional health system and population size of the municipality, being more evident the influence on the variables of the work process.


We identified that quality improvements related to infrastructure and work process occurred in the period of implementation of the program in the state of Ceará in an equitable manner, being influenced by population size and regional health system, showing the influence of the context in the implementation of public policies of this nature.

Key words: Health Care Quality, Access, and Evaluation; Family Health Strategy; Health Infrastructure; Primary Health Care; Outcome and Process Assessment, Health Care



Analisar a qualidade da infraestrutura e do processo de trabalho da Estratégia Saúde da Família nos municípios do Ceará entre 2012 e 2014.


Estudo transversal, utilizando dados secundários da avaliação externa do 1º (2012) e 2º (2014) ciclo do Programa Nacional de Melhoria do Acesso e da Qualidade da Atenção Básica no Ceará. Vinte indicadores compostos foram utilizados para averiguar a qualidade da infraestrutura e do processo de trabalho.


Dados de 183 (99,4%) dos 184 municípios foram avaliados nos dois ciclos. Avaliaram-se 1.441 equipes para infraestrutura e 800 equipes para processo de trabalho. Dentre os 20 indicadores compostos avaliados, houve melhoria em 18, porém de forma não homogênea, variando de 0,0 a 413,5%. Observou-se que quanto menor o valor inicial do indicador, maior a variação na qualidade entre 2012 e 2014. Os indicadores da infraestrutura e do processo de trabalho foram influenciados pela região de saúde e porte populacional do município, sendo mais evidente a influência nas variáveis de processo de trabalho.


Identificou-se que melhorias da qualidade referentes à infraestrutura e ao processo de trabalho ocorreram no período de implantação do programa no estado do Ceará de forma equitativa, sendo influenciadas pelo porte populacional e pela região, demonstrando a influência do contexto na implementação de políticas públicas dessa natureza.

Palavras-Chave: Qualidade, Acesso e Avaliação da Assistência à Saúde; Estratégia Saúde da Família; Infraestrutura Sanitária; Atenção Primária à Saúde; Avaliação de Processos e Resultados (Cuidados de Saúde


In Brazil, in 1988, the Unified Health System (SUS) was created1, guided by principles such as universality, equity and integrality, which implies the provision of care within the scope of care networks. Therefore, SUS adopts Primary Health Care (PHC) as central in the structuring of the health system, acting as the first contact of the user and the orderly of care network, according to recommendations of the Declaration of Alma-Ata2.

In this context, PHC was instituted based on the concept of comprehensive health care, but with gradual implementation, initially in the form of focused programs aimed to at-risk populations, such as the Programa de Agentes Comunitários de Saúde (PACS – Program of Community Health Agents), created in 1991, and the Family Health Program (FHP), established in 1994, which had greater coverage expansion in municipalities with a low human development index (HDI)3,4. Therefore, contradictions are shown in the organization of PHC in the early 1990s, with discussions on its traits of selective primary care, highlighting the challenges to advance towards the structuring of comprehensive primary care, necessary for the construction of an integrated health system2.

With the normative advance that regulates the organization of SUS, it is evident that FHP was established as a model of health care in 1996, with a redefinition of the funding logic by the implementation of the primary care base (PCB). Later, the program was defined as the Family Health Strategy (FHS) in 2006, with the attribution of acting as a reorganizer of PHC, to promote the integration of different levels of health care, materializing, at the local level, principles and guidelines of the SUS5.

The expansion of the FHS throughout the country, over the last 20 years, has been favoring the universalization of primary care and adding basic principles of a comprehensive PHC6. In 2014, according to data from the Brazilian Ministry of Health, 5,463 (98%) Brazilian municipalities had Family Health Strategy teams (FHST) in their network, covering 60% of the population. In the same period, 184 municipalities of Ceará had 2,303 FHST implemented, with 77.7% of population coverage7.

This increase in coverage occurred heterogeneously in the different regions of Brazil8. Thus, challenges are identified to the consolidation of FHS related to the financing, planning and organization of care practices, work management and continuing education of professionals, the coordination of care by the difficulty of ensuring access to other levels of care and construction of the integrality of care, which may compromise the quality of services offered6.

Then federal financial and investments aimed to qualify the primary care network are identified, by the guarantee of access and quality of care offered8, such as the Progama Nacional de Melhoria do Acesso e da Qualidade da Atenção Básica (PMAQ-AB—National Program for Improvement of Access and Quality of Primary Care), established in 2011 by the Brazilian Ministry of Health, being operationalized based on the following phases: adherence, contractualization, development (stage where external evaluation occurs) and recontractualization10. PMAQ-AB also represents an institutionalization strategy for quality assessment in PHC, whose evaluation model is based on the triad structure, process and results, proposed by Donabedian11.

The option to work with the evaluation of health care in PHC places the researcher in a challenging position, as it requires the choice of policies, actions and territories with various references to Brazil that show efforts and events in the organization of the offer and quality of health services. PMAQ-AB has provided an opportunity for reflections and daily practices of evaluation and self-assessment, which induce improvement planning by teams, thus committing themselves to changes in the infrastructure and work process of the FHS10. However, the incorporation of evaluative practices in the daily life of the FHS is still incipient, as well as knowledge about the quality of these services, particularly in the state of Ceará, considered a cutting-edge in PHC actions in the country.

Thus, this study aims to analyze the quality of the FHS infrastructure and work process in the municipalities of Ceará between 2012 and 2014, investigating the existence of quality-mediating variables.


Cross-sectional study using secondary data from the external evaluation of the 1st (2012) and 2nd (2014) cycle of PMAQ-AB referring to the state of Ceará, Brazil. Three instruments focusing on the FHS team are used for this evaluation: module I – referring to infrastructure, with variables observed directly in the health unit; module II – related to the work process, in which the questions are answered by a member of the FHS team (doctor, nurse or dentist); module III – with questions related to user satisfaction, covering their perception and satisfaction regarding access and use of FHS. In this study, only modules I and II (infrastructure and work process) were used. The questionnaires were composed of 450 questions related to infrastructure and 750 related to the work process.

Data collection was coordinated by a group of researchers from universities and research institutions responsible for the external evaluation of PMAQ-AB, who trained and monitored field interviewers and data collection supervisors, including state research coordinators.

In the first evaluation cycle, a total of 184 (100%) municipalities participated, including 911 teams (46.5% of FHST implemented by 2012). In the second cycle, 183 (99.4%) municipalities participated, including 1,711 teams (74.3% of FHST established by 2014). In 2012, more observations on structure than work process were observed, because in 2012 the Brazilian Ministry of Health was particularly interested in infrastructure; therefore, the module referring to this aspect was applied in all basic health units, even in those that did not adhere to the PMAQ-AB. Out of the 184 municipalities, data from 183 (99.4%) whose teams were evaluated in both cycles were used. A total of 1,441 teams were evaluated for the infrastructure and 800 for the work process. Since some FHST did not answer all the questions of modules I and II, the number of teams ranges according to the outcome and year of evaluation.

Index Creation

The indexes of this study were created based on the national database of the external evaluation of the PMAQ-AB, originally used to evaluate the FHS in Brazil. For this, similar variables included in the 2012 and 2014 cycles were identified. The items were organized into 20 groups (10 for infrastructure and 10 for the work process), based on FHS guidelines12 and evaluation themes of the PMAQ-AB10, excluding those with more than 5,000 missing observations per year of research. The application of a series of tests validated these structured groupings: pair correlation, Cronbach’s alpha and factor analysis. Additionally, each item was scaled from 0 to 1 (1 = most positive result) and the items within a group were estimated to form the composite index (CI). Moreover, the average of all CI in the general category created three general variables of composite index, two for infrastructure and one for the work process. Table 1 describes the CI created.

Table 1 List of variables that composed each composite index created based on the questions of the external evaluation of the National Program for Improvement of Access and Quality of Primary Care in 2012 and 2014. 

Compound index name No. of questions Description of the questions
Medication 47 Full list of 47 medicines.
Diagnostic tests 4 Test for Plasmodium (thick blood smear test); rapid HIV testing; rapid pregnancy test; rapid test for syphilis.
Vaccine 12 Oral rotavirus vaccine; tetravalent (2012) and pentavalent (2014); DTP (diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis); triple viral; 10-valent pneumococcal; pneumococcal (Salk and Sabin); 23-valent pneumococcal; meningococcal C; hepatitis B; seasonal influenza; double adult type dT; BCG ID.
Health attention equip 17 Vaccination card; pregnant woman’s booklet; children’s booklet; tongue lowerer in sufficient quantity; disposable needles of various sizes; bandages; thermal boxes for vaccines; measuring tape; disposable speculum; macrodrops and microdrops serum equipment; endocervical brush; Ayres spatula; adhesive tape, micropore tape and others; blade fixer; gauze; glass blade with frosted side; blade holder or plastic bottle with blade cap; capillary glucose measurement reagent strips; disposable syringes of various sizes; disposable syringes with coupled needle; hard container for disposal of sharps.
Medical equip 21 Adult blood pressure apparatus; child blood pressure apparatus; nebulization apparatus; anthropometric scale of 200 kg; children’s scale; anthropometric ruler; adult’s stethoscope; children’s stethoscope; light focus for gynecological exam; refrigerator for vaccines only; pharmacy-only refrigerator; glucometer; table for gynecological examination with leggings; table for clinical examination; ophthalmoscope; sonar; clinical thermometer; otoscope; monofilament kit for sensitivity test (esthesiometer); clinical lantern; extender cable thermometer.
Informatic equip 10 At least one computer in use; at least one webcam in conditions of use; a set of computer speakers; a stabilizer under conditions of use; at least one microphone in conditions of use; at least one printer in use; at least one TV in conditions of use; internet access; access of the team to Telehealth; room dedicated to the use of the internet.
Space adequacy 17 Sanitary for users (male and female); bathroom for employees; waiting room; vaccine room; doctor’s office; dentist’s office; inhalation room; procedure room; dressing room; observation room; sterilization room; collective activity room; good ventilation and air conditioning; adequate lighting; floors and walls of washable surfaces; good acoustics in health unit; offices with privacy for users.
Services offered 9 Vehicle (house calls and other external activities); meeting the needs of the team by vehicle; medical consultation; nursing consultation; dental consultation; dispensing medicines in the pharmacy; vaccination; user embracement and others.
Facility access 4 Wheelchair-adapted corridors; all external entrances and wheelchair-adapted doors; wheelchairs available to users; bathrooms for people with disabilities.
Unit identification 14 Proper signaling; hours of operation of the health unit according to the recommendations of the Ministry of Health; listing of activities offered by the team available to users; scale of professionals with name and working hours available to users; disclosure to users about BHU’s participation in “Saúde Mais Perto de Você – Acesso e Qualidade (PMAQ – Health Closer to You – Access and Quality)”; dissemination of the telephone number of the ombudsman of the Ministry of Health; use of the identification badge by professionals; non-disclosure of the team’s actions to users; opening shifts of the unit (morning, afternoon and evening); opening of the unit on all days of the week (Monday to Friday); offering services on weekends; working during lunch hours.
Infrastructure quality 10 Identification at UBS; accessibility; services offered; adequate space; computer equipment; medical supplies; inputs/materials; vaccines; diagnostic tests; medicines.
Infrastructure quality2 9 Identification at UBS; accessibility; services offered; adequate space; computer equipment; inputs/materials; vaccines; diagnostic tests; medicines.
Link to service 6 Contract with direct public administration; stability at work/obligation to hire; how the person got the job; career plan and salaries; receiving financial incentive or performance bonus; participation of the team in permanent education processes organized by the municipality.
Planning 10 Does the team plan activities on a monthly basis? Does the team perform analysis and monitoring of health information and indicators? Has the team carried out self-evaluation in the last six months? Does the team hold meetings often? Is there a definition of the team’s coverage area? Does the health team have territory maps? Are the records used by the team organized by family? Is there a standard model for filling out the cover sheet of medical records? Is there an electronic record implemented by the health team? Does the team consider the user’s vision for the reorganization and qualification of the work process?
City support 5 Does the team receive support or help for planning and organizing the work process? Does the municipality offer to the health team information that assists in analyzing the population’s health situation? Does the team receive aid or support for discussing data and monitoring the health system? Does the team receive permanent institutional support from the municipality to discuss the work process and help with the identified problems? Does the health team receive help from other professionals to assist and/or support the resolution of complex cases?
Patient welcome 7 Does the team embrace the spontaneous demand in the health unit? Does the team have a user removal service when necessary? Is the health team’s agenda organized for health education groups? Does the team renew revenues for users of continued care or programs such as hypertension and diabetes, without the need to schedule medical appointments? Is there a reservation of vacancies in the schedule or schedule of easy access to the professional so that the user can search and show test results? Is there a reservation of vacancies in the schedule or schedule of easy access to the professional so that the user can answer doubts after consultation or show how they situation has evolved? Does the team forward complaints of visual acuity or refractive evaluation demand, without the need for consultation appointment?
Exams 11 Does the team offer actions for pregnant women? Does the team offer actions for children? Does the team offer actions for patients with diabetes mellitus? Does the health unit perform the creatinine test? Does the health unit perform the lipid profile test? Does the health unit perform the electrocardiogram exam? Does the health unit perform the glycosylated hemoglobin test? Does the health unit perform a bacilloscopy test for tuberculosis? Does the health unit perform chest X-ray exam to diagnose tuberculosis? Does the health unit perform bacilloscopy examination for leprosy? Does the health unit perform the mammography exam?
Prenatal 14 Does the health unit perform the fasting blood glucose test in prenatal care network? Does the health unit perform the syphilis test (VDRL) in prenatal care network? Does the health unit perform HIV tests in the prenatal care network? Does the health unit perform the hepatitis B test in the prenatal care network? Does the health unit perform a summary examination and urine culture in the prenatal care network? Does the team supply the prenatal information system monthly? Does the team use the booklet or card to monitor pregnant women? Is there a record about the professional responsible for monitoring the pregnant woman? Is there a record of the pregnant woman’s dental consultation? Is there a record of the vaccination status of the pregnant woman? Is there a record on the collection of cytopathological exam of the pregnant woman? Does the team guide pregnant women about tetanus vaccines? Does the team receive the exams of pregnant women from the territory in a timely manner to perform necessary interventions? Is penicillin G benzathine applied in the health unit?
Child attention 9 Does the team perform childcare for children up to two years of age? Does the team use the child’s health booklet to monitor growth and development? Does the team have a copy of the child’s health booklets or another form with equivalent information in the unit? In the follow-up of the children of the territory, is there an actualized record on vaccination? In the monitoring of the children of the territory, is there a record on growth and development? In the follow-up of the children of the territory, is there a record on nutritional status? In the monitoring of the children of the territory, is there a record on foot testing? In the monitoring of the children of the territory, is there a record of family violence? In the monitoring of the children of the territory, is there a record on accidents?
Health promotion 12 Does the team offer educational and health promotion actions aimed to women (cervical and breast cancer)? Does the team offer educational and health promotion actions aimed at family planning? Does the team offer educational and health promotion actions aimed to pregnant women and postpartum women (breastfeeding)? Does the team offer educational and health promotion actions aimed to family planning? Does the team offer educational and health promotion actions aimed to older adults? Does the team offer educational and health promotion actions aimed to healthy eating? Does the team offer educational and health promotion actions directed to educational strategies related to sexual health and reproductive health? Does the team conduct groups focused on guidance on communicable diseases (such as dengue, tuberculosis, Hansen’s disease, HIV and trachoma), according to the need of the territory? Does the team conduct groups focused on guiding the use, abuse and dependence from using crack, alcohol and other drugs? Does the team conduct groups guiding the use, abuse and dependence of anxiolytics and benzodiazepines? Does the team address issues related to psychological distress or mental health promotion in the territory? Does the team encourage and develop physical practices and/or physical activities in the basic health unit and/or in the territory?
Home visit 9 Does the team have a protocol or criteria for house calls? Are families in the area covered by the primary care team visited with different frequency, according to risk and vulnerability assessments? Do community health agents have the schedule of visits made according to the priorities of the whole team? Does the team have a survey/mapping of enrolled users who need to receive care at home (except bedridden)? Does the team have a record of the number of bedridden and domiciled in the territory? In home care, do the team professionals perform clinical care (older adult user and/or one who needs home care)? In home care, do team professionals perform nursing procedures? Does the team have communication channels that allow users to express their demands, complaints and/or suggestions in primary care? Is there a local health council or other popular participation spaces?
School health 15 Does the team perform activities at the school? Does the team update the vaccination schedule? Does the team perform early detection of systemic arterial hypertension? Does the team perform detection of neglected health problems? Does the team perform anthropometric evaluation? Does the team perform ophthalmologic evaluation? Does the team perform nutritional assessment? Does the team perform oral health assessment? Does the team perform actions on food security and promotes healthy eating (educational activities on food promotion and healthy lifestyles)? Does the team promote body practices and physical activity in schools? Does the team conduct education for sexual health, reproductive health and prevention of sexually transmitted infections and AIDS? Does the team perform actions to prevent the use of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs? Does the team perform training actions for education professionals to work with health education? Does the team discuss with school teachers? Doesn’t the team perform health promotion and prevention actions?
Work process quality 10 Professional bond; planning; institutional support; user embracement; exams; prenatal care; child health; health promotion; health at school; house calls.

PHCU: primary health care unit

Statistical Analysis

The level of evaluation is the FHS, but the unit of analysis is the municipality. Thus, the CI of the municipal level was created by the mean of all FHST scores in the municipality. Depending on the size of the municipality, the number of FHST ranged from less than 5 to 120 teams. Comparisons were made to verify whether all CI in both moments were statistically significant, using t-test, one way analysis of variance (ANOVA) and T2 Hotelling test. ANOVA and generalized estimated equation (GEE) were used to compare CI in different regions and sizes of municipalities.

Thus, the variation for each CI was created based on the municipality, being calculated as the result of 2014 CI value minus the 2012 CI value. These values were compared based on the region and population size of the municipality. The percentage of change between the 1st and 2nd cycle for each of the CI was also estimated.

Stratification Variables

Statistical analysis was repeated using two stratification variables: size of the municipality (population) and health region. The municipalities were categorized based on the number of inhabitants, considering the guidelines of the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE): level 1 (0 to 5,000), level 2 (5,001 to 10,000), level 3 (10,001 to 20,000), level 4 (20,001 to 50,000) level 5 (50,001 to 100,000), level 6 (100,001 to 500,000), and level 7 (above 500,001)13. However, for this study, levels 1 and 2 were grouped. This stratification was adopted to test the hypothesis that there are differences in quality improvement by population size, since the challenges and management capacity differ according to the size of the municipality.

The state of Ceará is divided into five health macro-regions: Fortaleza (44 municipalities), Sobral (54 municipalities), Cariri (45 municipalities), Sertão Central (20 municipalities) and Litoral Leste/Jaguaribe (21 municipalities). We considered as a hypothesis that quality improvements may differ in the regions of the state, due to the intrinsic characteristics of each one. In the process of health regionalization, the macro-regions of Fortaleza, Sobral and Cariri were the first created, considered the most developed centers, with specialized care network and tertiarian reference hospitals in their respective headquarters. The Sertão Central and Litoral Leste/Jaguaribe macro-regions were created in 2011 and 2014, respectively, due to the dismemberment of the Fortaleza macro-region14.


Most of CI (18 out of 20) was significantly better in the second cycle than in the first (Table 2). Only two CI did not change significantly over time, one related to infrastructure (vaccine available in the basic health unit – PHCU), and the other related to the work process (exams).

Table 2 Comparison of the composite index variable in the years evaluated. Ceará, 2012 and 2014. 

Variables na Year Meanb SD pc % variation
Infrastructure variables
Unit identification 1,408 2012 0.54 0.16 < 0.001 16.67
1,441 2014 0.63 0.13
Facility access 1,440 2012 0.22 0.29 0.001 136.36
1,441 2014 0.52 0.34
Services offered 1,441 2012 0.79 0.14 0.000 13.92
1,441 2014 0.90 0.11
Space adequacy 1,428 2012 0.61 0.18 0.000 16.39
1,441 2014 0.71 0.18
Informatic equip 1,438 2012 0.16 0.20 0.000 56.25
1,441 2014 0.25
Medical equip 448 2012 0.63 0.12 0.000 15.87
1,441 2014 0.73 0.11
Health attention equip 1,441 2012 0.88 0.11 0.000 6.81
1,441 2014 0.94 0.08
Vaccine 1,441 2012 0.82 0.15 0.421 1.21
1,441 2014 0.83 0.13
Diagnostic tests 1,441 2012 0.04 0.12 0.000 413.5
1,441 2014 0.19 0.34
Medication 1,441 2012 0.43 0.21 0.000 16.27
1,441 2014 0.50 0.17
Infrastructure quality 433 2012 0.51 0.89 0.000 21.56
1,441 2014 0.62 0.10
Infrastructure quality2 1,392 2012 0.50 0.09 0.000 22.00
1,441 2014 0.61 0.11

Work process variables
Link to service 782 2012 0.50 0.21 0.000 10.00
789 2014 0.55 0.21
Planning 784 2012 0.81 0.11 0.000 6.17
786 2014 0.86 0.75
City support 698 2012 0.93 0.15 < 0.018 8.13
798 2014 0.95 0.15
Patient welcome 792 2012 0.80 0.18 0.000 8.75
800 2014 0.87 0.15
Exams 747 2012 0.96 0.74 0.521 0.00
800 2014 0.96 0.90
Prenatal 792 2012 0.87 0.84 0.000 3.44
800 2014 0.90 0.85
Child attention 799 2012 0.76 0.15 0.000 11.84
800 2014 0.85 0.14
Health promotion 779 2012 0.56 0.20 0.000 25.00
783 2014 0.70 0.22
School health 686 2012 0.56 0.24 0.000 42.85
766 2014 0.80 0.18
Home visit 797 2012 0.69 0.16 0.000 27.53
800 2014 0.88 0.13
Work process quality 553 2012 0.76 0.80 0.000 10.52
734 2014 0.84 0.76

SD: standard deviation; PHCU: primary health care unit

a Family health teams evaluated in each composite index. Number of team responses: 15,670 for work process variables and 23,022 for infrastructure.

b Mean value for each composite index (CI), with 1.00 being the maximum value.

c T-test by evaluating whether there is a difference between the CI values between the two years (2012 and 2014).

The percentage of improvement was not homogeneous in all CI investigated, ranging between 0.0 and 413.5% (Table 2). A negative relationship was observed between the percentage of change (between the two PMAQ-AB cycles) and the initial value (referring to 2012) of the variable, in which the lower the initial value of CI turned into the greater the variation in quality between 2012 and 2014. This was observed when all variables were analyzed together (r = -0.4843; p = 0.0192). When the infrastructure and work process variables were evaluated separately, only the set of work process variables demonstrated this statistically significant negative relationship (infrastructure: r = -0.4624 and p = 0.1785; work process: r = -0.7031 and p = 0.0233).

When studying the CI values for different regions and population size of the municipalities, we observed that, generally, the variables presented improvements in the mean quality of the municipalities in the period, affecting the quality of PHC results (Table 3 and Table 4).

Table 3 Comparison of the values of the variables of infrastructure and work process, according to the population size of the municipalities with external evaluation of the National Program for Improvement of Access and Quality of Primary Care. Ceará, 2012 and 2014. 

Infrastructure variables by municipality population size Work process variables by population size of the municipality

Variable Population size (in inhabitants) 2012 2014 % change pa Variable Population size (in inhabitants) 2012 2014 % change pa
Unit identification 0–10,000 0.542 0.633 16.78 Home visit 0–10,000 0.663 0.848 27.90
10,001–20,000 0.524 0.624 19.08 10,001–20,000 0.682 0.875 28.29
20,001–50,000 0.532 0.641 20.48 20,001–50,000 0.680 0.868 27.64
50,001–100,000 0.528 0.609 15.34 0.688 50,001–100,000 0.697 0.884 26.82 0.235
100,001–500,000 0.587 0.686 16.86 100,001–500,000 0.741 0.931 25.64
≥ 500,001 0.534 0.600 12.35 ≥ 500,001 0.707 0.740 4.67
Facility access 0–10,000 0.270 0.632 134.07 School health 0–10,000 0.633 0.795 25.59
10,001–20,000 0.200 0.517 158.50 10,001–20,000 0.605 0.808 33.55
20,001–50,000 0.194 0.499 157.21 20,001–50,000 0.558 0.796 42.65
50,001–100,000 0.218 0.496 127.52 0.256 50,001–100,000 0.440 0.771 75.23 0.137
100,001–500,000 0.279 0.559 100.35 100,001–500,000 0.553 0.858 55.15
≥ 500,001 0.233 0.600 157.51 ≥ 500,001 0.577 0.555 -3.81
Services offered 0–10,000 0.831 0.926 11.43 Health promotion 0–10,000 0.615 0.638 3.74
10,001–20,000 0.770 0.900 16.88 10,001–20,000 0.571 0.684 19.79
20,001–50,000 0.797 0.898 12.67 20,001–50,000 0.556 0.708 27.34
50,001–100,000 0.769 0.899 16.90 0.562 50,001–100,000 0.504 0.676 34.13 0.971
100,001–500,000 0.815 0.918 12.63 100,001–500,000 0.641 0.781 21.84
≥ 500,001 0.866 0.895 3.34 ≥ 500,001 0.569 0.354 -37.78
Space adequacy 0–10,000 0.616 0.717 16.39 Link to service 0–10,000 0.419 0.462 10.26
10,001–20,000 0.579 0.683 17.96 10,001–20,000 0.423 0.493 16.55
20,001–50,000 0.584 0.725 24.14 20,001–50,000 0.548 0.600 9.49
50,001–100,000 0.625 0.681 8.96 0.285 50,001–100,000 0.498 0.536 7.63 0.001
100,001–500,000 0.653 0.762 16.69 100,001–500,000 0.473 0.552 16.70
≥ 500,001 0.718 0.658 -8.35 ≥ 500,001 0.823 0.770 -6.43
Informatic equip 0–10,000 0.220 0.328 49.09 Planning 0–10,000 0.809 0.857 5.93
10,001–20,000 0.103 0.227 120.38 10,001–20,000 0.809 0.852 5.31
20,001–50,000 0.126 0.243 92.85 20,001–50,000 0.818 0.868 6.11
50,001–100,000 0.140 0.220 57.14 0.920 50,001–100,000 0.775 0.851 9.80 0.688
100,001–500,000 0.311 0.347 11.57 100,001–500,000 0.855 0.891 4.21
≥ 500,001 0.396 0.390 -1.51 ≥ 500,001 0.858 0.663 -22.72
Medical equip 0–10,000 0.650 0.767 18.00 City support 0–10,000 0.930 0.963 3.55
10,001–20,000 0.611 0.720 17.83 10,001–20,000 0.923 0.946 2.49
20,001–50,000 0.643 0.732 13.84 20,001–50,000 0.948 0.960 1.26
50,001–100,000 0.622 0.708 13.82 0.980 50,001–100,000 0.910 0.952 4.61 0.407
100,001–500,000 0.692 0.780 12.71 100,001–500,000 0.937 0.986 5.23
≥ 500,001 0.780 0.717 -8.07 ≥ 500,001 0.758 0.418 -44.85
Health attention equip 0–10,000 0.889 0.945 6.29 Patient welcome 0–10,000 0.818 0.878 7.33
10,001–20,000 0.872 0.939 7.68 10,001–20,000 0.809 0.860 6.30
20,001–50,000 0.880 0.944 7.27 20,001–50,000 0.805 0.866 7.58
50,001–100,000 0.877 0.938 6.95 0.725 50,001–100,000 0.757 0.857 13.21 0.212
100,001–500,000 0.911 0.954 4.72 100,001–500,000 0.811 0.905 11.59
≥ 500,001 0.875 0.932 6.51 ≥ 500,001 0.845 0.678 -19.76
Vaccine 0–10,000 0.829 0.833 0.48 Exams 0–10,000 0.931 0.947 1.72
10,001–20,000 0.825 0.831 0.72 10,001–20,000 0.951 0.942 -0.95
20,001–50,000 0.796 0.821 3.14 20,001–50,000 0.958 0.957 -0.10
50,001–100,000 0.826 0.814 -1.45 0.996 50,001–100,000 0.954 0.955 0.10 0.037
100,001–500,000 0.853 0.852 -0.11 100,001–500,000 0.986 0.986 0
≥ 500,001 0.891 0.801 -10.10 ≥ 500,001 0.992 0.893 -9.98
Diagnostic tests 0–10,000 0.034 0.091 167.64 Prenatal 0–10,000 0.872 0.905 3.78
10,001–20,000 0.012 0.158 1216.67 10,001–20,000 0.872 0.904 3.67
20,001–50,000 0.030 0.067 123.33 20,001–50,000 0.857 0.901 5.13
50,001–100,000 0.015 0.246 1540.00 0.036 50,001–100,000 0.861 0.888 3.13 0.693
100,001–500,000 0.112 0.460 310.71 100,001–500,000 0.901 0.928 2.99
≥ 500,001 0.105 0.305 190.47 ≥ 500,001 0.892 0.815 -8.63
Medication 0–10,000 0.443 0.462 4.28 Child attention 0–10,000 0.730 0.774 6.03
10,001–20,000 0.439 0.465 9.92 10,001–20,000 0.744 0.851 14.38
20,001–50,000 0.449 0.502 11.80 20,001–50,000 0.751 0.843 12.25
50,001–100,000 0.425 0.480 12.94 0.696 50,001–100,000 0.718 0.807 12.39 0.036
100,001–500,000 0.393 0.546 38.93 100,001–500,000 0.834 0.935 12.11
≥ 500,001 0.154 0.598 288.31 ≥ 500,001 0.842 0.777 -7.71
Infrastructure quality 0–10,000 0.530 0.633 19.43 Work process quality 0–10,000 0.754 0.822 9.02
10,001–20,000 0.489 0.606 23.92 10,001–20,000 0.752 0.824 9.57
20,001–50,000 0.507 0.607 19.72 0.374 20,001–50,000 0.763 0.839 9.96
50,001–100,000 0.513 0.609 18.71 50,001–100,000 0.725 0.822 13.38 0.338
100,001–500,000 0.579 0.686 18.48 100,001–500,000 0.794 0.876 10.33
≥ 500,001 0.603 0.650 7.79 ≥ 500,001 0.795 0.702 -11.69
Infrastructure quality2 0–10,000 0.524 0.619 18.12
10,001–20,000 0.480 0.594 23.75
20,001–50,000 0.487 0.593 21.76 0.846
50,001–100,000 0.491 0.598 21.79
100,001–500,000 0.541 0.676 24.95
≥ 500,001 0.527 0.642 21.82

PHCU: primary health care unit

a ANOVA – Equations of generalized estimative.

Table 4 Comparison of the values of the infrastructure variables and work process, according to the health region in the external evaluation of the National Program for Improvement of Access and Quality of Primary Care. Ceará, 2012 and 2014. 

Infrastructure variables by region Work process variables by region

Variable Health region 2012 2014 % change pa Variable Health region 2012 2014 % change pa
Unit identification Fortaleza 0.510 0.617 20.98 Link to service Fortaleza 0.485 0.558 15.05
Sobral 0.494 0.596 20.64 Sobral 0.526 0.531 0.95
Cariri 0.618 0.685 10.84 0.002 Cariri 0.514 0.590 14.78 0.673
Sertão Central 0.476 0.609 27.94 Sertão Central 0.371 0.479 29.11
East Coast/Jaguaribe 0.583 0.677 16.12 East Coast/Jaguaribe 0.514 0.532 3.50
Facility access Fortaleza 0.253 0.525 107.50 Planning Fortaleza 0.786 0.844 7.37
Sobral 0.184 0.475 158.15 Sobral 0.809 0.858 6.05
Cariri 0.214 0.571 166.82 0.894 Cariri 0.837 0.878 4.89 0.016
Sertão Central 0.155 0.501 223.22 Sertão Central 0.787 0.878 11.56
East Coast/Jaguaribe 0.261 0.461 76.62 East Coast/Jaguaribe 0.846 0.847 0.11
Services offered Fortaleza 0.786 0.903 14.88 City support Fortaleza 0.889 0.915 2.92
Sobral 0.780 0.890 14.10 Sobral 0.952 0.969 1.78
Cariri 0.812 0.916 12.80 0.503 Cariri 0.937 0.969 3.41 0.043
Sertão Central 0.745 0.917 23.08 Sertão Central 0.936 0.953 1.81
East Coast/Jaguaribe 0.788 0.880 11.67 East Coast/Jaguaribe 0.948 0.968 2.10
Space adequacy Fortaleza 0.639 0.701 9.70 Patient welcome Fortaleza 0.803 0.844 5.10
Sobral 0.594 0.688 15.82 Sobral 0.771 0.837 8.56
Cariri 0.582 0.708 21.64 Cariri 0.778 0.906 16.45
Sertão Central 0.597 0.649 8.71 Sertão Central 0.809 0.936 15.69
East Coast/Jaguaribe 0.191 0.243 27.22 East Coast/Jaguaribe 0.969 0.944 -2.57
Informatic equip Fortaleza 0.151 0.263 74.17 Exams Fortaleza 0.956 0.952 -0.41
Sobral 0.134 0.265 97.76 0.266 Sobral 0.967 0.980 1.34 0.310
Cariri 0.141 0.250 77.30 Cariri 0.930 0.961 3.33
Sertão Central 0.186 0.256 37.63 Sertão Central 0.946 0.935 -1.16
East Coast/Jaguaribe 0.653 0.720 10.26 East Coast/Jaguaribe 0.879 0.902 2.61
Medical equip Fortaleza 0.626 0.710 13.41 Prenatal Fortaleza 0.879 0.902 2.61
Sobral 0.644 0.754 17.08 0.017 Sobral 0.853 0.891 4.45 0.568
Cariri 0.567 0.719 26.80 Cariri 0.867 0.909 4.84
Sertão Central 0.657 0.773 17.65 Sertão Central 0.870 0.924 6.20
East Coast/Jaguaribe 0.894 0.936 4.69 East Coast/Jaguaribe 0.776 0.861 10.95
Health attention equip Fortaleza 0.883 0.941 6.56 Child attention Fortaleza 0.756 0.833 10.18
Sobral 0.887 0.958 8.00 0.363 Sobral 0.767 0.862 12.38 0.058
Cariri 0.840 0.930 10.71 Cariri 0.704 0.850 20.73
Sertão Central 0.877 0.938 6.95 Sertão Central 0.706 0.792 12.18
East Coast/Jaguaribe 0.840 0.838 -0.23 East Coast/Jaguaribe 0.514 0.664 29.18
Vaccine Fortaleza 0.788 0.797 1.14 Health promotion Fortaleza 0.610 0.693 13.60
Sobral 0.839 0.830 -1.07 0.666 Sobral 0.608 0.718 18.09 0.023
Cariri 0.798 0.840 5.26 Cariri 0.463 0.733 58.31
Sertão Central 0.818 0.827 1.10 Sertão Central 0.556 0.751 35.07
East Coast/Jaguaribe 0.039 0.200 412.82 East Coast/Jaguaribe 0.524 0.772 47.32
Diagnostic tests Fortaleza 0.047 0.234 397.87 School health Fortaleza 0.561 0.766 36.54
Sobral 0.025 0.085 240.00 0.497 Sobral 0.615 0.826 34.30 0.001
Cariri 0.016 0.246 1.437.50 Cariri 0.493 0.829 68.15
Sertão Central 0.058 0.352 506.89 Sertão Central 0.579 0.849 46.63
East Coast/Jaguaribe 0.449 0.495 10.24 East Coast/Jaguaribe 0.706 0.882 24.92
Medication Fortaleza 0.353 0.406 15.01 Home visit Fortaleza 0.669 0.834 24.66
Sobral 0.428 0.517 20.79 0.045 Sobral 0.692 0.896 29.47 0.042
Cariri 0.447 0.498 11.40 Cariri 0.695 0.910 30.93
Sertão Central 0.499 0.498 -0.20 Sertão Central 0.727 0.921 26.68
East Coast/Jaguaribe 0.534 0.618 15.73 East Coast/Jaguaribe 0.750 0.822 9.60
Infrastructure quality Fortaleza 0.482 0.607 25.93 Work process quality Fortaleza 0.772 0.823 6.60
Sobral 0.523 0.634 21.22 0.160 Sobral 0.771 0.851 10.37 0.171
Cariri 0.481 0.622 29.31 Cariri 0.711 0.848 19.26
Sertão Central 0.531 0.631 18.83 Sertão Central 0.757 0.844 11.49
East Coast/Jaguaribe 0.509 0.606 19.05 East Coast/Jaguaribe 0.561 0.766 36.54
Infrastructure quality2 Fortaleza 0.475 0.595 25.26
Sobral 0.505 0.620 22.77 0.154
Cariri 0.467 0.611 30.83
Sertão Central 0.519 0.615 18.49
East Coast/Jaguaribe 0.047 0.234 397.87

PHCU: primary health care unit

a ANOVA – Equations of generalized estimative

When observing quality changes in the infrastructure, based on the size of the municipality, only the CI of diagnostic tests presented significantly different percentages of change between groups (p = 0.036), with a greater positive effect on quality improvement in municipalities with a population of 10,001 to 20,000 inhabitants and 50,001 to 100,000 inhabitants. These data show that municipality size may not influence the improvement of the quality of infrastructure variables during the period studied.

We found that few infrastructure CI were influenced by the health region of the municipality, with only three presenting statistically significant changes: unit identification (p = 0.002), medical equip (p=0.017) and medication (p = 0.045). However, although no statistically significant differences were found between health regions, we observed that the Sertão Central region showed a higher percentage of improvements in most of the infrastructure variables analyzed, namely: unit identification, facility access, services offered, informatic equip, medical equip, health attention equip, vaccine, diagnostic tests, medication and infrastructure quality and infrastructure equality 2 (Table 4).

When observing the CI variables related to the work process, the different population sizes of the municipality were significantly associated with the change in quality improvement in three CI evaluated, in relation to link to service (p = 0.001), exams (p = 0.037) and child attention (p = 0.036). Notably, although it is not always a statistically significant result, the variables health promotion, school health, planning, patient welcome, and work process quality presented greater percentage variation in municipalities from 50,001 to 100,000 inhabitants. Municipalities with a population above 500,000 inhabitants presented negative variation over the years in all CI of the work process, except for home visit (Table 3).

When observing the changes in the work process by region (Table 4 a significant variation was found among them in six CI studied: planning (p = 0.016), city support (p = 0.043), patient welcome (p = 0.001), health promotion (p = 0.023), school health (p = 0.001) and home visit (p = 0.042). The highest increase in CI occurred in the Sertão Central region, with greater positive variation between regions and in 9 of the 11 CI studied, while Litoral Leste/Jaguaribe and Cariri presented higher variations in CI. It is interesting to note that the CI values in 2012 for the Sertão Central region were, in general, the lowest among the different regions.


This is the first article evaluating, by composite indexes, the quality of FHS in the state of Ceará, in the dimensions of infrastructure and work process, using data from the external evaluation of the PMAQ-AB of the 1st and 2nd cycle (2012 and 2014). In general, a positive variation in the CI of infrastructure and work process was observed (significant change in 18 of the 20 CI evaluated), which indicates improvement in the quality of the FHS in the period studied. We also verified that this improvement occurred more intensely and in an inverse relationship between CI result in 2012 and the percentage of change occurred (difference in values between 2014 and 2012) – that is, the lower the value in 2012, the greater the improvement of the variable. This fact shows a desirable equitable improvement of CI in the period.

This performance reflects, to some extent, the induction performed by evaluation and monitoring policies, with increased investments and adequate use of resources to meet PHC demands8,15, as well as the program for requalification of the infrastructure of basic health units of the country (Requalifica UBS–Requalifies BHU)16. A similar study conducted throughout Brazil also showed a fair improvement in the indicators analyzed, especially when evaluating the North and Northeast regions17. Notably, unlike the nationwide study, which presented a more prominent inverse relationship in CI related to infrastructure17, in this study such relationship was stronger in CI related to work processes. This may mean that, in general, the Requalifica UBS16 was effective, but that, in the state of Ceará, the performance of the teams, as well as the management processes linked to them, was able to respond more strongly than in other regions of the country regarding work processes.

It should be noted that this most prominent inverse relationship in CI related to the work process may be the result of the protagonism of the teams, who have worked these questions more effectively, minimizing the differences in quality between the variables studied and qualifying the work of FHS more equitably. Generally, teams have more autonomy to act on problems related to the work process than in the infrastructure dimension, which demands financial resources that are not always available12,15. Thus, we observed that the teams participating in the PMAQ-AB effectively expanded their scope of practices, supported by municipal management. Thus, they advanced in the changes related to the work process to qualify the FHS, assuming this transformation process, performing self-assessment and planning, setting goals to be implemented jointly by the teams.

The availability of financial resources has the capacity to induce more rapid improvements in infrastructure, while the transformations of the work process require more time, since they require changes in organizational culture, co-responsibility of managers and professionals, in addition to the reorganization of health practices18. The fact that the municipalities of Ceará have succeeded in making progress in the organization of work processes of their FHST may be a reflection of the state performance. Its role is associated with the processes of continuing education and the monitoring of indicators developed, and these actions are executed as a strategy for consolidating the regionalization process14. Thus, with the PMAQ, Brazil assumes the responsibility of properly managing the offer of services, so that the results achieved correspond to the established goals or the real needs of the population with a programmed incentive policy10.

The lowest percentages of change occurred in the variables exams, vaccine and prenatal, which are among the CI with higher initial values. Furthermore, it is important to understand that the supply of vaccines has its logistics structure organized nationally by the Programa Nacional de Imunização (PNI – National Immunization Program )16. Thus, immunobiologicals are acquired by the federal government, and the local/municipal level has to adequate the units according to the technical standards of the Ministry of Health and application in the population19,20. Thus, the municipalities have low interference in this variable, which can be verified by the non-influence of population size and health region in this CI.

It is interesting to note that the greatest increase in CI occurred in diagnostic tests, a variable in which municipalities also have little influence. The acquisition of the tests is carried out by the Brazilian Ministry of Health, but it is up to the states and municipalities to structure and organize them effectively. The implementation of rapid tests and exams for the diagnosis of pregnancy, HIV infection and screening of syphilis and viral hepatitis in PHC forms the set of strategies of the Ministry of Health aiming to qualify and to expand the Brazilian population’s access to health21. The data show that a significant improvement in this indicator occurred in the state, most likely due to the increase in the acquisition of inputs by the federal government, but also by the better organization of the state and municipalities in the distribution and use of such inputs. However, unlike the variable vaccines, the population size and the health region influenced the improvement in diagnostic tests. The explanation for this is not very clear, but it seems to us to be related to the way in which these municipalities organize themselves to carry out the diagnostic tests.

We also observed that the variation of CI did not occur homogeneously in the groups studied, which seems to be influenced by population size and regionalization. The largest variations occurred in the smaller population municipalities, located in the Sertão Central region and with lower CI values in the first external evaluation cycle.

In the process of implementing the Sertão Central macro-region, in 2011, being the penult installed in the state of Ceará14, possibly its organization – by the construction of the Plano Diretor Regional, which was possible with workshops, meetings, training and agreements between municipal managers and state manager – has mobilized efforts of leaders and professionals aimed to the qualification of their work processes and infrastructure, reflecting in the best CI of the region in the 2nd cycle of the PMAQ. This fact corroborates the effect of regional issues on the implementation of national policies.

We emphasized that mediating variables should be considered in the implementation of public health policies. Inter- and intra-regional differences in health systems can occur for several reasons, whether economic, cultural, educational, organizational, infrastructure-related or population profile, including the epidemiological and demographic17.

In municipalities with more than 500,000 inhabitants, such the state capital, a negative variation was observed in CI results regarding the quality of the work process. This fact may be the effect of the organizational change implemented in PHC of the municipality since 2013, notably in the work process of the FHST. In this context, the following stand out: changes in basic health units managers; change in the work day of professionals, who began a work shift of six direct hours, generating mismatches between team members; discouraged local planning in the FHS; changes in the regulation of users’ access, with a dense schedule of care due to spontaneous demand; among other22,23. Such modifications seem to have, to some extent, disarticulated the FHST, distancing them from what is recommended by the Política Nacional de Atenção Básica (PNAB – National Primary Health Care Policy)12. Previous studies have shown a relationship between human development index (HDI), FHS coverage, Bolsa Família Program coverage, population size, FHS planning indicators and institutional support for FHS actions and provision of prenatal care and FHS exams as variables that influence health indicators24-26. Therefore, for the improvement of the quality of health care, it is necessary to undertake efforts aimed to planning and institutional support, aligned with the organizational mission, considering the interests of the collective of workers, with a view to ensuring the provision of services and resolutive actions.

Considering the fact that the greatest positive variation in quality improvement occurred in municipalities and/or regions with lower initial CI, the implementation of PMAQ-AB in Ceará induced the qualification of the FHS in an equitable manner. In fact, this characteristic also occurs in the rest of the country, and in other policies based on the principle of equity, such as the PNAB, which has also provided a reduction in inequalities, benefiting poorer, smaller and low population-density municipalities17,24,27.

The implementation of the PMAQ-AB required greater leadership of managers and workers in the restructuring of basic health units and work processes in the FHS than traditionally occurred in Brazilian states. The standards of access and quality are re-signified according to the concrete reality, context, priorities, interests and negotiation with local actors8,28. In this sense, health policies that induce evaluation and monitoring also influence the context in which29they are implemented, and they should be considered in the implantation of national public policies, but with local implementation. We believed that part of the differences observed between health regions and population size may have been due to regional issues. Thus, for the full implantation of national policies, additional support is necessary for regions that need greater incentive to achieve quality improvement. Although the analysis of this research occurred in the state of Ceará, its inferences, related to the importance of context issues in the implementation of policies, can be extrapolated to other parts of the country.

The study recognizes that, by the evaluated CI, PMAQ-AB, although recent, promotes the responsibility to adequately manage the provision of services so that the established goals and the real health needs of the population are met and achieved with a programmed incentive policy that directly affects the financing, management of the service network, institutional support, planning and organization of work processes.


Quality improvements related to infrastructure and work process occurred equitably during the implementation period of the PMAQ-AB in the state of Ceará. Although the implementation of the program occurred almost universally among the municipalities of the state, the results of this policy were not homogeneous, since they were influenced both by population size and health region. We observed that public policies are appropriate and adapted according to the reality and/or context in which they are implemented, with the flexibility of considering dynamics and complexity of the territories. Thus, these aspects should be considered when national policies are implemented locally.


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Received: June 25, 2019; Accepted: September 10, 2019

Correspondence: Anya Pimentel Gomes Fernandes Vieira-Meyer Fundação Oswaldo Cruz - Ceará Rua São José, s/n 61760-000 Eusébio, CE, Brasil E-mail:

Authors’ Contribution: APGFVM, APPM, MFASM: design, planning of the study, and data collection. APGFVM, APPM, JMXG, ILBC: interpretation and analysis of results. APGFVM, APPM, JMXG, ILBC, PSFN, SASN: writing of the manuscript. NFCV, RWJFF, MFASM, SASN: critical review of the manuscript. All authors approved the final version of the manuscript and publicly assume responsibility for the content of the article.

Conflict of Interest: The authors declare no conflict of interest.

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