Sector-wide approaches (SWAps) in health were developed in the early 1990s in response to widespread dissatisfaction with fragmented donor-sponsored projects and prescriptive adjustment lending. SWAps were intended to provide a more coherent way to articulate and manage government-led sectoral policies and expenditure frameworks and build local institutional capacity as well as offer a means to more effective relationships between governments and donor agencies. The global health landscape has changed dramatically since then. Although many countries have undertaken SWAps, the experience deviated considerably from the early vision, and many of the problems in national health systems persist. The future of SWAps will depend on stronger government oversight and innovative institutional arrangements to support health strategies that address the need for both targeted initiatives and stronger health systems to provide a wide range of public health and clinical services. For development assistance to be more effective, it will also depend on better discipline by donors to support national governments through transparent negotiation.