Today was star-studded. They brought out the big guns, from Serena Williams to Lance Armstrong to Mandy Moore to Jeff Sachs (perhaps only a celebrity to wonky aid types like me). Presentations were filled with interesting questions and conversations, but at the end of the day there are a few things that stuck with me. At the forfront of my mind: just how important community health workers (CHWs) and a community health approach are to the success of global health programs, and the amazing ways these individuals are using new technology.
Dr. Len (Deputy Chief Medical Officer, ACS) responded with a resounding “Yes, yes, yes!” when I asked him if there was a place for CHWs in behavior change, education, and screening around noncommunicable diseases (NCDs). Jeff Sachs mentioned the work done by CHWs as part of the Millennium Villages Project. One of Ericsson’s Technology for Good projects provides CHWs with mobile handsets loaded with the ChildCount+ app, allowing them to enter basic data and autogenerate medical records for clients. Mandy Moore talked about how community health workers are distributing bed nets and providing education around how to use them. And the list goes one.
The importance of taking a community health approach is not new. The Child Survival and Health Grants Program has been working in communities for decades, and the CORE Group was founded to provide a place for NGOs working on community-based service delivery to network and work together. Community health systems have received increased attention as an important item for consideration in health systems strengthening programs, and I’ll be curious to see how all of the rhetoric around that importance translates into action.
The presenters today, though, highlighted how they’re emphasizing the importance of and empowering CHWs through their projects, which I found exceptionally interesting and admirable. While questions around who pays for incentives or salaries for CHW cadres, or what services they will be trained to provide still persist, I love that their role and importance has made it on the agenda for both private industry and social good organizations.