|Education for Health (WHO, 1988, 274 p.)|
|Chapter 6: Health education with communities|
A community health facility such as a health centre or clinic, should be designed to meet the needs of the people in the community. The services it offers should continue to be seen as useful to the community.
There must be some means by which people in the community can give not only their views and suggestions, but also participate in making decisions about the design and running of the services.
One way to make sure community views are heard and considered is to organize an advisory and planning board made up of citizens who make use of the services.
An existing group or committee could serve this purpose. If a new group needs to be formed, follow the general suggestions given for forming a health committee. The members of the board must be willing to work. They should gather good background information about problems before they make suggestions.
Views of health workers
Health workers often feel uncomfortable when community members offer suggestions and criticisms about the health service. They feel that the community does not appreciate their hard work. This is not usually the case. People in the community simply want what they think is the best for themselves and their children.
An advisory board will not work unless the health staff welcomes the idea as much as the community does. Meetings, discussions, and even individual counselling with health staff on the subject of community participation may be necessary. Health service staff themselves may need education on the value and meaning of participation as we have described it in this book (see particularly, Chapter 2).
Training board members
The members of the community who serve on an advisory or planning board need training so that they can do their jobs well and communicate easily with the staff.
The board members will appreciate it if health workers use simple language that they can easily understand and if they explain to them the meaning of some of the technical terms or special words that health workers use. They will then be better able to understand what is being discussed at meetings. Board members also need to feel that they are welcome to ask questions.
If board members know how to collect accurate information about the health problems of their community and the possible causes of these problems, they will be able to give health staff better suggestions about improving services.
Running a board meeting
Ways of running meetings are different in different cultures. The health staff may also have its own way of running meetings. When the health staff and board members get together for a meeting, they must agree on how they will run the meeting; how permission will be given to speak; how decisions will be made; what kind of leadership there will be; and other issues.
Whatever training sessions you may organize, you must remember that board members and health staff must have good relations if they are to work together. Informal gatherings can be planned so that members and staff get to know each other socially. Small group and one-to-one discussion can also help.
Board members should take time to explain and discuss their views with health workers until everyone sees a clear line of action. Then they must be willing to work with the health workers to be sure that changes and improvements are made as desired.
Contact with the community
Just like a health committee, an advisory board serves the community leaders and members. The board should meet with community groups and leaders to share what they learn about the health service. In a way, such a board is a link between the community and the health service.