Community Engagement Matters: Raising up “Vital Voices” is Critical to Making UHC a Reality
Robinah Kataritimba is executive director of the Uganda National Consumers Organization and an enthusiastic advocate for Universal Health Coverage (UHC) in her country. She believes in the power of everyday Ugandans to make UHC possible.
Robinah was one of more than 60 people who attended the ACS African Collaborative for Health Financing Solutions (ACS) Regional Workshop in Accra, Ghana in February 2018. Many workshop attendees were from the five countries where the ACS project conducted consultations to assess the landscape of UHC policies. The consultation countries that helped inform the follow-on work achieved during the workshop were, Nigeria, Senegal, Uganda, Burkina Faso, and Tanzania.
“It was a chance to network and learn from each other,” Kataritimba said.
Among the highlights of the three-day workshop were sessions focused on identifying barriers and opportunities to advancing UHC in sub-Saharan Africa. “It is very important that we have regional cooperation in order to learn from each other. The ACS project is helping in this effort because we would not come together and harness the support of the ACS project as well as from one another as we identify approaches and strategies for our work ahead,” Kataritimba explained.
Too often, UHC policies and strategies are designed by a relatively small group of decision-makers, who later try to integrate other actors in their implementation. ACS works to change this dynamic. We highlight the “vital voices” of community leaders and average citizens, elected leaders and civil society organizations, researchers and activists – so that they are systematically included in the discourse about UHC, and informed, engaged, and mobilized to advance toward health for all.
As part of its strategic communications approach, the ACS project aims to spotlight so-called “vital voices” of people like Kataritimba, in order to raise up the power and influence of citizens as they work with decision makers and policymakers in their own countries to advance UHC policy.
Civil society actors are not always integrated into the discourse-level of UHC processes and unknown personalities of everyday individuals in communities are heard even less often, if at all. Sams’K Le Jah, co-founder of the youth organization Balai Citoyen in Burkina Faso, is another dedicated UHC advocate. His organization strives to make change via social mobilization. “Our numbers are our strength,” he said. He emphasized the need for policymakers to collaborate with civil society. “Decisions that affect everyday people should not be made in the comfort of air-conditioned offices by those who lack empathy or are who are out of touch with reality of life under the sun.” Only through collaboration will the right policy decisions be made with the buy-in of all stakeholders, he added.
Nigerian workshop representatives also emphasized the need for government and civil society to work hand-in-hand.
Dr. Stella Iwuagwu, executive director for the Center for the Right to Health, underscored the need to include everyday people and health workers in UHC conversations. “We need to move citizens’ voices from the streets into the boardrooms. How can we understand the full urgency and importance of UHC if we do not hear from those on the front lines and who have suffered because of the lack of such coverage? With the ACS project, it seems we are finally moving from research to action,” she said.
The Honorable Muhammad Usman, member of Parliament in Nigeria, agrees. He sees civil society change agents like Dr. Iwuagwu as strong partners. “There is political will for UHC in Nigeria. We have a long way to go but we are doing the best we can to find sufficient funds for the health sector. I see civil society actors are real partners with us, in government to make this happen,” he said.
ACS supports collective engagement: fostering collaboration, learning, and accountability to ensure that all vital stakeholders are engaged in UHC policy and implementation processes for faster progress toward health for all.