Strengthening country context in partnerships for community health and empowerment


Over 300 participants from more than 25 countries met to discuss community health and empowerment at the Institutionalizing Community Health Conference in Johannesburg. Participants represented Ministries of Health, civil society, including adolescent groups, academic institutions, the private sector as well as UN and multilateral organizations and donors. Through a mix of plenaries and break-out sessions, participants had the opportunity to engage in collective dialogue and shared learning that combined global and national evidence with country experiences and perspectives on community health and empowerment.

Multistakeholder dialogue and partnerships were the focus of a cluster of sessions. In the Partnerships plenary, PMNCH was represented by board member Anthony Costello, Director of the WHO Department of Maternal, Newborn and Child Health and he joined representatives from civil society in Nigeria and Uganda, the government of India, the Global Fund and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (India). A lively discussion ensued around the purpose of partnerships, who needs to be at the table, how that can happen and what makes partnerships work. A range of partnership models were highlighted, including citizen-led initiatives and engagement with government, local government initiatives and integration of participatory learning and action groups, civil society participation in the Global Financing Facility (GFF) and national and global alliances and networks. Common themes underpinning the discussion related to the importance of country context in partnerships for community health and empowerment, the need to better leverage the power of groups and networks and capacity development for participation.

Other sessions spanned a broad range of themes, including scaling up community engagement, sustainable financing, gender-sensitive and evidence-based equity and accountability approaches, and research and innovation. The final day was dedicated to country teams planning together to progress community health and empowerment in their own contexts. This was also an opportunity for delegates to reflect on the ways in which community health could be refocused in their country to extend beyond community service provision to include processes to strengthen community capacity and participation in health. In summarizing their involvement, one participant said the conference gave him the opportunity to meet and work together with delegates from his country, in some cases for the first time, and to collectively give input on the reframing of his country’s community health agenda.