Partners pledge to work together to support community health workers

Published: 27 October 2011 14:30 CET

Experts from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) and a range of international organizations recently attended a two day workshop dedicated to supporting the world’s community-based health workforce. The group, which included the Global Health Workforce Alliance (GWHA), Unicef, UNHCR, WHO and many other non-governmental organizations, said the workforce was a key element in disaster response, but also had a vital role to play in hygiene promotion, behaviour change, health education and social mobilzation.

Jonathan Abrahams, responsible for disaster risk management at WHO, said the workshop had enabled the group to determine the best way to strengthen community-based health initiatives. “What is really important is that multiple agencies are building on the experience, and that more can be done by working together with a common purpose. We have identified priorities for the development of practical guidelines and other actions for the community based workforce, on which our organisations can collaborate,” he said.

Unicef's Heather Papowitz said the worldwide workforce was pivotal before, during and after an emergency. “There are concrete measures that can be taken by local, national and international actors to strengthen the capacity of the local health system to manage the risks of emergencies enabling communities themselves to prevent and prepare for emergencies and to take action when disasters strike.”

However, support must go beyond the boundaries of NGOs to convince governments of the importance of community-based health. George Pariyo from GHWA said: “What is needed is to highlight the contribution of community-based health workforce in order to lobby governments and all stakeholders for positive policy change. No one agency or government can do this alone. We need to partner with different key stakeholders at different levels to make it happen.”

Dermot Carty from Unicef, said the best way to build resilience within a community was to give the people a voice and encourage their participation. "I have spent many years in the field and had the privilege to work with communities, particularly in the fight against malaria. We realized that if you want to build resilience, there's no better way than getting communities involved in the decisions that affect them. We have to invest before emergencies happen,” he said. “This initiative can contribute towards building resilience and in reducing the impact of disasters on communities.”

Matthias Schmale, under-secretary general at the IFRC, stressed the importance of attempting to engage with all levels of society, during times of emergency and every day. “The beauty of such partnership is that each partner brings something concrete in building the resilience of local communities that encompass a multi-sector approach. We also urge governments to recognize the economic value of the volunteers by incorporating their contribution in the decision-making and planning.”

The joint statement was developed to draw attention to the role that the community-based health workforce plays; to promote its efficiency and encourage governments and supporting partners to reinforce it by strengthening and preparing existing health systems; and to provide resources in support of local action to reduce health risk and manage emergencies.