In March, Malaria Consortium participated in the Institutionalising Community Health Conference (ICHC) in Johannesburg, South Africa. The conference was held to build partnerships and support country-led initiatives to strengthen health systems and community partnerships so that future generations not only survive, but thrive. It also focused on the development of country-specific action plans to address priority issues and challenges.
The global agenda for community health is moving beyond child survival to include the thriving of children so that they can contribute to transformation in their own communities. WHO is in the process of developing guidelines to assist national governments and national and international partners to improve the design, implementation, performance and evaluation of community health worker (CHW) programmes.
Throughout the conference, countries presented their own experiences and lessons learnt on different aspects of implementing community health programmes. Main themes included community engagement, supervision systems, financing of community health programmes, partnerships and engagement with private sector, equity and accountability, and research and innovation including community health information systems.
Malaria Consortium’s Senior Research Advisor, Dr Karin Kallander, contributed to the programme with a presentation on the upSCALE project which uses mobile phone technology (mHealth) to support CHWs in Mozambique. Our Nigeria Country Technical Coordinator, Dr Olusola Oresanya, also presented a poster on the seasonal malaria chemoprevention pilot project in Nigeria.
There was a strong focus on community empowerment throughout the conference and Dr Anthony Costello, WHO Director of Department of Maternal, Newborn, Child and Adolescent Health, outlined the four principles of effective community empowerment during a plenary session. These principles are that it should be country led; scientific (impact at scale is attenuated); have the participation of communities; and include district systems for community empowerment for health – leadership action.
It was acknowledged that participation is not the same as empowerment; participation is to do with outcome yet empowerment is to do with process; empowerment has to do with creating opportunity for people to make options and choices and empowerment is not given but taken.
Equity and gender recommendations included integrating a gender analysis of CHW systems to align policies and programmes to empower CHWs. This included supporting recognition, remuneration and training of CHWs, especially females, to achieve greater gender equity within the CHW system and wider society; and identifying alternative pathways to professionalising CHWs.
The Institutionalising Community Health Conference was hosted by USAID and UNICEF in collaboration with USAID’s flagship Maternal and Child Survival Programme, WHO, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation