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Integrating Community Participation in Maternal and Newborn Health Services: Burkina Faso

Author(s) Janet Perkins1, Cecilia Capello2, Aminata Bargo3
Affiliation(s) 1Health Department, Enfants du Monde, Geneva, Switzerland, 2Health Department, Enfants du Monde, Geneva, Switzerland, 3Health Department, Fondation pour le Développement Communautaire/Burkina Faso , Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.4
Country - ies of focus Burkina Faso
Relevant to the conference tracks Social Determinants and Human Rights
Summary Improving maternal and newborn health (MNH) in regions where women and newborns suffer most requires a rights-based approach which identifies and addresses the broader social determinants of health. In Burkina Faso, we are implementing a health promotion component within the national MNH strategy. A central feature is the institutionalization of community participation in the identification of priority MNH needs as well as the design of interventions. The result is a system in which data related to social determinants of health are collected and used within the health sector. This allows the health sector to participate in addressing these determinants and promotes the rights of community members.
What challenges does your project address and why is it of importance? Despite progress over the past two decades, women and newborns in Burkina Faso continue to face elevated risks related to pregnancy and childbirth. With a maternal mortality ratio of 300/100,000, a woman in Burkina Faso faces a 1 in 55 lifetime risk of death due to maternal causes. Thirty-eight of every 1,000 newborns fail to survive the first month of life. Effectively addressing MNH demands a rights-based approach to health programming that focuses on rooting out inequities and addressing social determinants of health.
Central to a rights-based approach is the promotion of meaningful participation of individuals and communities in the development and implementation of actions designed for their benefit. Participation is both an ends in and of itself, as participation is defined as a right, as well as a means of contributing to a process of empowerment. One of the aims of our program is to integrate participatory processes into health programming. This contributes to assisting the health services in becoming aware of and designing appropriate and tailored interventions to address challenges in MNH, including social determinants, as well as to give a voice to community members and ensure that they are able to participate and are empowered in the process.
How have you addressed these challenges? Do you see a solution? Since 2006, Enfants du Monde, a Swiss NGO, in collaboration with the local NGO Fondation pour le Développement Communautaire/Burkina Faso (FDC/BF), has been supporting Ministry of Health (MoH) in implementing a programme based on the World Health Organization’s framework for Working with Individuals, Families and Communities (IFC) to improve MNH. The IFC framework is designed to form a health promotion component of a broader MNH strategy, as it does in the Burkina Faso national strategy. One of the principal aims is to empower women, men, families and communities to improve MNH. A central component of the empowerment process is institutionalizing participatory processes in health planning.Notably, participatory community assessments (PCA) are conducted at the outset of district-level implementation. These assessments provide a platform for community members, with an emphasis on marginalized groups, to discuss MNH needs in the community and develop tailored interventions. During the PCAs, participants explore the broad array of factors, including social determinants that contribute to poor MNH. The ensuing results of these assessments are planned interventions which are appropriate and specific to the context as well as the initiation of the empowerment of community members as they assume influence in improving the health of their community.While participatory planning processes are not new in health programming, the IFC framework institutionalizes these processes within the broader health system to make community voices systematically represented and to allow for the systematic collection of information related to social determinants of MNH. With the endorsement of the national MoH, actors from within the sub-national MoH have been trained to conduct PCAs in collaboration with other actors working within MNH at the regional and district level. In this position, they have been able to assume the responsibility of listening to the voices of community members and of taking direct action in response to their participation. This process has created a mechanism by which community participation has been integrated within the health sector. This contributes to promoting participation, and thereby rights, of community members, and increases accountability and transparency in the health services. It allows for health inequities and socioeconomic determinants of health to be identified and addressed within the public health sector.
How do you know whether you have made a difference? To date, PCAs have been conducted in seven districts (Tenkodogo, Zabré, Kongoussi, Ouragaye, Barsalogho, and Sindou) over three regions. These assessments have effectively identified challenges related to MNH, many related to rights and socioeconomic determinants, that did not surface through more traditional, non-participatory situation analyses. These include: lack of knowledge of health behaviors during and following pregnancy; lack of awareness of danger signs during and following pregnancy; lack of planning for birth or potential complications; women’s inability to make the decision to seek health services autonomously or use family resources to pay for services due to low socioeconomic status; financial and transportation barriers to reaching health facilities; and lack of satisfaction in interactions with health care providers.
To address these priority concerns, community members, leaders and the health sector worked together to develop interventions. These interventions vary by district, but include health education activities (theatrical performances, culinary demonstrations, radio game shows, etc.), birth preparedness and complication readiness, mobilization of men and the broader community to increase their awareness of MNH rights and needs and enlist their participation in MNH actions, building maternity waiting homes and training health workers to build their capacities to interact with women.Preliminary results to date suggest the success of the processes and interventions. Notably, the IFC interventions have been directly integrated into the MNH action plans of each district. This mechanism has assured the institutionalization of community members’ participation in the planning of activities designed to benefit them. This has not only contributed to the promotion of their rights, but has also provided a way for the health sector to gather data and become involved in addressing the broader determinants of health, including social determinants. Where interventions have been implemented, health care providers have created links for exchanging information with communities. Male partners are accompanying women when receiving MNH services in greater numbers and health information system data has revealed an increase in utilization of MNH services. A current evaluation is assessing the degree to which the activities have contributed to change in MNH knowledge, attitudes and practices in these initial sites of implementation.
Have you or the project mobilized others and if so, who, why and how? We initiated the project based on the assumption that improving MNH cannot effectively be accomplished in a vacuum and requires the mobilization and action of a myriad of actors. As such we have mobilized a variety of agencies and sectors acting at the national, sub-national and district level. This process began with the introduction of the IFC framework at national level. Workshops were held with MoH, Ministry of Education, international organizations and others working on MNH at this level. These workshops were designed to help these actors understand the critical nature of working with and empowering individuals, families and communities and institutionalising mechanisms that allowed them to participate in reaching the goals laid out in the national MNH strategy and ultimately fulfill women’s maternal health rights. Actors from within MoH to be responsible for the IFC component at the national level were identified and their capacities built to lead these efforts.
At the same time, IFC committees, operating under MNH bodies, at sub-national and district level were formed. This structure of IFC committees has created a mechanism allowing for both horizontal and vertical communication. This has reinforced the institutionalization of community participation in MNH as actors at both the national and sub-national levels become aware of the specific needs expressed by community members as well as the social determinants of maternal and newborn health in play at the local level. They are then able to respond with centralized action when necessary and appropriate.
In addition, community members, leaders and groups have been mobilized to participate in MNH action. Notably, health care providers have created linkages for working with communities and for the exchange of information. They have contacted and begun working with community leaders, male partners, community health workers and village birth attendants. Through these links, actors in the community have become engaged in encouraging women to attend MNH services. They also transmit information from the health services to the community and gather information on an on-going basis in the community and relaying it back to the health services. This contributes to the realization of rights, including promoting community members’ rights to information and education and through ensuring accountability and transparency. It also provides a mechanism for continued community participation within the health sector.
When your donor funding runs out how will your idea continue to live? Sustainability of the program has been a priority since its inception and has therefore been implemented with a long term vision. To begin with, the IFC framework and its related interventions have been directly integrated into the national MNH strategy, as the health promotion component and fifth pillar of the national Plan for Reducing Maternal and Newborn Mortality: A Road Map. This has assured that it has never been implemented as a standalone, vertical program. In addition, the component is being implemented directly by MoH, with the support of outside actors, including NGOs and UNFPA. As a result MoH is directly responsible and accountable for its implementation. It has been institutionalized within the MNH program at all levels, ensuring that participatory processes themselves are integrated as well. Moreover, while the program is still financially supported primarily by exogenous actors (i.e. UNFPA, EdM), MoH understands that this funding will ultimately expire and has identified and begun implementing strategies for resource mobilization internally.
In addition, at its core, our project focuses on building the capacities of in-country actors. Notably EdM has no expatriate staff on the ground. Rather, locals are staffed as coordinators in regional offices. Likewise, FDC/BF is a local NGO, based and operating in Burkina Faso. Moreover, at every phase of IFC implementation, the focus remains on building the capacities of State and other actors to implement the framework and assume primary responsibility for interventions. This focus on capacity building of in-country actors prevents an over-reliance on outside actors and ensures local ownership of initiatives, thereby promoting sustainability.
Finally, the program has also launched processes of empowering women, men, families and communities. This empowerment is considered not only a means to an end, but also an end in and of itself. These exercises of working together have built the capacities of community members to collaborate in identifying their needs and designing methods to address these needs. The capacities of the health services have simultaneously been reinforced to include the participation of community members in health planning and services action. This bodes well for the sustainability of the idea as local actors have the capacity to participate and the health sector is equipped with the capacity to integrate and promote community participation.

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