Reaching every woman and child with high-quality health services – particularly the most vulnerable and marginalized – requires prioritizing community health. In 30+ countries, USAID's flagship Maternal and Child Survival Program (MCSP) links community health and health systems strengthening efforts by taking an expanded view of what a health system is: not only health services, but all actors involved in protecting and building health.
We know that involving communities in their own health ensures that services are people-centered, gender sensitive, and responsive to local needs. With this in mind, we’ve institutionalized community health as a central component of thriving national health systems – establishing community health committees, fostering dialogue around local health needs, and promoting relationships between area health facilities and residents.
Closing gaps in health outcomes between advantaged and disadvantaged groups also necessitates designing interventions that promote equity for all. MCSP trains sub-national health managers to identify underserved populations and deliver equitable reproductive, maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health services, and throughout implementation, data informs the design of our programs. On the ground, we document those practices that work best, enabling us to adapt our approaches for optimal results.
For countries to progress on their journeys to self-reliance, we must continue to advance this unfinished agenda. Investments in community health improve both the quality of services and accountability of the health system. Institutionalizing community health into national systems is helping to “reach the unreached” and moving countries closer to their own national health goals.
Koki Agarwal, MD, MPH, DrPH