The Maternal Health Task Force (MHTF) was thrilled to participate in the 2017 Institutionalizing Community Health Conference (ICHC) held in Johannesburg, South Africa from 27 March – 30 March. More than 375 people representing over 45 countries gathered to discuss critical issues in community health and develop consensus on strategies to advance sustainable development through community health and primary health care. Below are five key takeaways for global maternal health:
1. Engaging communities as part of sustainable development
Engaging communities in a meaningful way is critical for designing and implementing interventions to improve service delivery and quality of maternal health care. The Global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s and Adolescents’ Health (2016-2030) suggests that communities should:
- Participate meaningfully in health-related decision-making
- Generate demand for health programs and support their implementation
- Actively support positive changes to social norms and attitudes that impede progress
- Advocate for women’s, children’s and adolescents’ health and hold governments and duty-bearers to account
2. Linking primary health care systems and communities
Community-based maternal health interventions work best when they incorporate strong referral systems and emergency transport. Presentations were made exemplifying promising approaches to linking communities with the primary health care system in India, Liberia and Uganda.
3. Financing and caring for community health workers
Community health workers should be valued, counted and compensated. More research is needed to better understand over- and under-utilization of community health workers, as well as their job satisfaction and quality of life. (View a related video from the conference here.)
4. Listening to community voices and holding stakeholders accountable
Global health experts from different countries shared innovative ways of amplifying community voices and ensuring that communities hold health systems accountable. Two examples that were presented at the conference included youth engagement in communication about sexual and reproductive health and the use of community video to demonstrate the importance of hygiene and nutrition.
5. Prioritizing equity at the global, national and community levels
Access to, utilization of and quality of maternal health care varies dramatically across the globe. For example, national maternal mortality ratios range from fewer than 5 deaths per 100,000 live births to more than 1,000 deaths per 100,000 live births. Within countries, disparities exist based on a woman’s socioeconomic status, place of residence and education level. Identifying, measuring and addressing inequities in maternal health is necessary to ensure that no woman is left behind.