APMEN – building malaria elimination on a history of community engagement

apmen_banner.gifThe APMEN Community Engagement for Malaria Elimination Workshop started by establishing the broader context of community participation in disease control efforts.  Dr. Wichal Satimal, Director of Vector-borne Disease Control in the Thailand Ministry of Health first welcomed the Asia Pacific Malaria Elimination Network members  to Chiang Mai and Thailand, host country of the Workshop.

dscn5589-sm.jpgDr Charles Delacollette of WHO reminded participants that community engagement is not new to the World Health Organization and member states, and in fact was the foundation of the 1978 Alma Ata Declaration on Primary Health Care.  Reaching back farther, Dr Delacollette recalled that the malaria eradication effort begun in the 1950s was possibly the first international disease control program to reach out to the remotest communities.  He explained that these foundations today manifest in hundreds of thousands of community health workers and volunteers based in villages throughout the Asia Pacific Region.  Other trends in health system reform include decentralization that can give more power to consideration of local priorities.

Dr. Maxine Whittaker of the University of Queensland, and one of the workshop organizers, stressed that a key theme of this meeting is “bringing the human back into malaria control and intervention.” She drew attention to the fact that at the heart of the six WHO key health systems elements should be a seventh, the ‘people’ who must be partners in strengthening health systems.

dscn5594-sm.jpgJo-An Atkinson, also of the University of Queensland reviewed the 60-year history of community participation in disease control and elimination.  An important lesson was the need for better documentation of evidence of what works in terms of community engagement strategies, especially in terms of impact on diseases. Jo-An outlined a variety of factors that influence a community’s ability and willingness to engage in disease control activities ranging from gender and power relationships to lack of congruence between community perceived priorities and agency targets.

Ultimately the challenge to participants posed during this first session was the need to begin the process of establishing best practice guidelines for community engagement in malaria elimination before the end of the meeting.

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