More than 500 delegates from 50 countries, ministers of health from several African nations and high-level representatives of USAID, the U.S. President’s Malaria Initiative and the Africa Center for Disease Control are gathering this week in Liberia for the 3rd International Community Health Workforce Symposium.
Representatives from the Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs and its Breakthrough ACTION project will be among the speakers at the symposium, which is designed to advance primary health care through successful community health worker programs. Breakthrough ACTION-Liberia played a lead role in agenda setting for the symposium, organized the track on “Community Engagement, Mobilization and Leadership” and will have a booth at the marketplace on site in Monrovia.
“Community health workers are able to work in places and in ways that sometimes the formal health system can’t reach. They work in communities, miles and miles from health facilities and clinics,” says Lindsey Leslie, the social and behavior change advisor for Breakthrough ACTION-Liberia and CCP’s focal point for the symposium. “They can build trust, because they live in communities, they speak local languages, and they deeply understand community dynamics in ways that can transform the delivery of primary health care.
“They’re a critical link with a really vital role in any vibrant community health program.”
The conference, which begins Wednesday, is being led by the Liberian Ministry of Health Community Health Program, with support from USAID, UNICEF and other partners.
Liberia, which was hit hard by the 2014-2015 Ebola epidemic, has used community health workers to help restore trust in the health care system and work toward universal health coverage. As of December 2022, community health workers have increased equity in access to health services, reaching more than 70 percent of Liberia’s remote rural population of 1.5 million. A quarter of all positive diagnoses of malaria by rapid diagnostic tests are now done by health workers at the community level since 2018.
Breakthrough ACTION community activities have included close partnership with community level actors, including health workers, and bringing communities together to identify and prioritize health issues and develop action plans to address those problems.
CCP’s Liberia team will lead two sessions focused on community engagement, mobilization, and leadership: “Engaging communities for high-performing health systems” and “Optimizing community engagement for inclusive, high-quality, community-based primary health care.”
Meanwhile, CCP staff will present three abstracts. One will highlight an innovative job aid for community-based midwives that uses traditional storytelling to help pregnant women prepare to deliver their babies in a health care facility. Another looks at reimagining the role of community in community health programming. A third, from Nigeria, is about a successful program to supplement community health workers using community volunteers to bridge the gap from the formal health system to the community.
The 3rd International Community Health Workforce Symposium runs from March 20 – 24, with a two-day pre-conference and three days of main event activities held at the EJS Inter-Ministerial Complex in Monrovia, Liberia.