African governments should invest in community health systems and extension community health workers for their citizens for effective delivery of health services.
Dr. Herilinda Temba an epidemiologist with the African Union (AU) said investing in community healthcare workers and systems will improve the quality of care as well as improve health expenditures in the long term. She was speaking on the Speaking in Mombasa on the sidelines of a community health regional capacity building workshop sponsored by the AU under the auspices of the Africa CDC.
Dr. Temba contends that health and community systems are ‘dynamic, intertwined and overlapping systems’ that independently contribute to improved general well-being at the local level.
The medic says the current health systems in most African countries are reactive rather than proactive.
She challenged African governments to explore ways of implementing reforms to strengthen community health workforce programs to improve outcomes and access to basic health services across the board.
“It’s high time African governments focused and prioritized on preventing diseases before they strike and manifest by investing heavily in local healthcare systems and workers,”
“The current health system in Africa is reactive rather than proactive and the imbalance has hit communities hard,” she noted and called on African countries to define common approaches to strengthen health care at the community level.
Community Health Care Contribution
Dr. Temba says community health workers have traditionally been overlooked despite playing a critical role in leadership and coordination at the community level.
“Community health workers contribute to increased access to the formal healthcare system or improved patient adherence to treatment regimens like antiretroviral therapy and tuberculosis treatment regimens among numerous other roles,” she said.
She says recent continental health surveys show that most countries don’t have community health strategic plans and that the few countries that have, lack costed implementation plans.
She also called on African countries to tap into digital health to support community health workers.
“For example, countries can harness the power of mobile technology to connect community health workers to their clients, peers, and supervisors, to new data and information, and to health systems,” said Dr. Temba.
‘It’s disheartening to see that many African countries are still using paper-based data in the management of community health approaches in the face of technological advancement’.
She says many governments run community health systems often struggle with poor quality data from their community health worker programs, as well as ensuring the accountability of field-based staff and managing the quality of care that is being delivered at the last mile.
Dr. Salim Hussein, Head of Community Health Services at the Ministry of Health said increased community involvement in health matters is critical to the achievement of health-related targets in the country.
Dr. Hussein said there is growing recognition that effective partnerships between communities and health systems are needed to achieve and sustain positive health outcomes.
He says the Kenyan government is committed to investing in community health workers to achieve universal health coverage goals.
He said they are alive to the fact that empowering community healthcare workers and volunteers will in the long run ensure the overall welfare of the communities.
He says community health workers have the responsibility of mobilizing communities for involvement in health promotion and disease-prevention activities at the grassroots level.
“The ministry of health will back the grassroots health workers with technical and financial support to ensure sustainability,” said Dr. Hussein.
He says Kenya seeks to rely on a robust community health workforce to fill critical gaps while delivering quality, affordable services closer to underserved patients.