There is renewed focus on community health, in the drive to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. It is increasingly recognized as an important component of countries’ policies and programs. The understanding of what constitutes community health is evolving, and will continue to do so in the years to come. There is room for cross-country learning on how to define and strengthen the various domains of “Community Health,” as there are still some unanswered questions about for instance, what constitutes a package of curative and preventive interventions; the best way of capturing community level information; how to strengthen the procurement and supply of essential commodities in the community; and how to mobilize community accountability and monitoring systems. Yet, with the vast amount of collective knowledge and skills accrued from country-specific experiences, these are issues that the global health community can solve in a collaborative way.
In March 2017, the Institutionalizing Community Health Conference (ICHC) was organized in Johannesburg. It provided an opportunity for countries to track their progress and explore how to further prioritize programs and policies, with a focus on community health. Accordingly, 400 community health champions from 24 countries adopted a list of 10 critical principles and spelled out their country’s action plan. One of the 10 principles was about providing opportunities for country-to-country lesson sharing and developing a shared global learning agenda. There was also a call for the engagement of implementers and researchers, who often work in silos, and for real-time research, monitoring, evaluation and learning, so that after adapting successful interventions, they can be replicated and scaled up. This sounded like the perfect program for a new community of practice (CoP).
Communities of practice are groups of people who share a passion for something they do and who interact regularly to learn how to do it better. Adopted as a knowledge management (KM) strategy in big corporations, it is also increasingly being adopted in social sectors like education and public health. Over the last few years, several CoPs have been set up in global health. A transnational community can be an avenue for peer-to-peer collaborative networks, which are driven by willing participation of their members, and focused on learning, sharing knowledge, developing expertise and solving problems. We live in a connected world, where finding and sharing information is just one click away; because of this, a truly global health community can easily apply this CoP concept to the domain of community health. A stronger South-South collaboration can advance the agenda of community health and instead of reinventing the wheel, a vibrant platform could be a starting point for learning and contextualizing some of the drivers of what makes implementation successful, and also some of the associated challenges.
Launch of the new CH-CoP
Against this backdrop, we are happy to announce that a Community Health-CoP (CH-CoP) has been launched recently. It will be led by an international facilitation team, with technical support from the Institute of Tropical Medicine, Antwerp and the financial support of UNICEF. We are giving ourselves 12 months to demonstrate the impact of the CoP. We aim to be a bilingual CoP (English and French) that creates value for everyone who is interested in the broader field of community health. During this first year, we will focus on convening policymakers, health professionals, planners, funding and implementing agencies, non-governmental organizations, grassroots organizations, startups and research institutions at all levels (national, regional and international), in a platform that enables knowledge sharing, collaboration and action at country level.
As for the areas of work, a strong momentum was set in Johannesburg. We will of course continue to develop our learning agenda collectively, but we anticipate that areas of interest, besides those listed above, will be: the integration of community networks and service delivery mechanisms, ensuring quality of services, equitable financing and payment mechanisms, governance structures and social accountability, engaging civil society, faith based organizations and the private sector, harnessing new technology. The indicated subjects will guide us in the development of case studies, policy notes, evidence synthesis and collaborative studies.
Based on established trust and a collaborative atmosphere, the CoP will, we hope, provide global momentum around community health. Things have started this week. To join us, see instructions below.