Citizens need empowerment to take charge of programs, Ali

By Trouble Ziba

The Ministry of Health and Population says will continue strengthening health-improvement mechanisms amongst the citizens to ensure they are part of the planning, implementation and utilization processes of programs that are purposed to improve their health.

Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of a round-table discussion held in Lilongwe Thursday, Deputy Director for Preventive Health Services (responsible for Community Health Services) in the ministry, Doreen Ali, said unless empowered, communities may not take any part in programs implemented in their areas.

“The Ministry of Health wants to teach communities on how they can own community health programs. They should take charge of all community health issues and be able to ask for particular health services,” said Ali.

The Ministry of Health, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and United States Agency for International Development (USAID) held a round-table discussion at BICC in Lilongwe on “Social Accountability for Healthy Communities in Malawi”.

Among other objectives, the discussion was to take stock of the learning in social accountability in the health sector in Malawi.

Ali explained that her ministry has put in place mechanisms to empower grassroot communities on health issues. Some of them include formation of village health committees (VHCs), community health action groups and health centre management committees.

She said village health committees and community action groups, in collaboration with village development committees (VDCs), play the role of identifying health gaps in their respective areas and how they could be addressed.

The grass root structures are also responsible for presenting identified issues to health centre management committees which then can carry the issues to Hospital Management Committees, say at district level, for possible solutions.

According to the deputy director, communities need to be empowered for them to be responsible, ensure that health services are provided and for them to be fully involved in all health programs.

“Communities should be involved from planning, implementation and utilization of health programs,” said Ali, adding that this would enable them to ably take charge and own the programs.

According to the UNICEF representative, Johannes Wedenig, social accountability relies on involvement of the citizenry who hold government and other duty bearers to account for their services.

Wedenig said social accountability can work from community to national level through empowerment of citizens as active agents of social change.

He said there was need to promote greater accountability at all levels for commitments on, especially reproductive, maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health.

“UNICEF, as a key player in this process, has been supporting the drive for greater accountability around the world by engaging civil societies and putting communities at the forefront of development,” said Wedenig.

In Malawi, the UN agency has also engaged the civil society to support citizens to hold government and partners accountable by among other things, ensuring that maternal, newborn and child health programs scale up interventions and reduce inequities, according to the official.

“UNICEF also supported the formation of accountability forums at community and district level, including expanding the role of Bwalo Forums, strengthening Radio Listening Clubs and supporting health –sector- budget analysis and tracking,” explained the UNICEF official.

The round table discussion was expected to discuss and define roles of key social accountability actors within the district system such as clarity on duty bearers and relationships between national and local government.

The forum would also come up with concrete recommendations for integrating social accountability approaches towards sustainability and scale of programs.

Participants to the round-table discussion would also define a common agenda for the way forward, including identifying resources and agreed-upon timeline for implementation of programs.

Participants to the round-table discussion included officials from the Ministry of Health, UNICEF, USAID and Malawi Health Equity Network (MHEN)-Mana

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