Advancing Community Health – Key Takeaways from the 3rd International Community Health Workers Symposium

Apr 25, 2023

On the 22nd – 24th of March 2023, something momentous happened that builds on the growing momentum of community health across Africa and around the world. It was the 3rd International Community Health Workers Symposium, where government officials, thought leaders, partners, and multilateral organizations gathered to discuss the advancement of community health worker programs to build resilient and equitable health systems that accelerate primary healthcare for universal health coverage.

The symposium witnessed two important milestones that promise to leave a lasting impact. First, the launch of the Monrovia Call to Action, a declaration of commitment by participants to prioritize community health worker programs as a key strategy for achieving universal health coverage. Second, the announcement by Liberian Vice President, Jewel Taylor of a $1.8 million investment to put community health services supervisors on the government payroll, demonstrating a strong, continued commitment to improving healthcare access in Liberia. 

Below are our four main takeaways from the symposium:

A unifying Monrovia call for action on community health – Kayleigh Begley, Director, External Relations, Last Mile Health

Kayleigh Begley’s biggest highlight was to see partners, delegates, and the Government of Liberia reinforce their commitment to fund, scale, and strengthen community health programs, as an integral part of primary health care. This commitment was demonstrated through the Monrovia Call to Action. Kayleigh was also inspired by the strong presence of community health workers (CHWs) who spoke on nearly all panels and plenary sessions, advocating for themselves and the support they need to continue providing quality care in their communities. Africa Frontline First is actively working to incorporate the direct experiences of CHWs into program design and implementation. Community health workers like Margaret Odera and John Wabwire Shikuku have taken leadership positions in the initiative, on the forthcoming high-level council and the Africa Frontline First Catalytic Fund board.

A whole-of-society approach is needed to end the 4 billion dollar funding gap for community health workers – H.E. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Former President of Liberia and Nobel Peace Laureate

In her opening remarks at the symposium, H.E. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf shared an important step towards bridging the funding gap for community health in Africa: the Africa Frontline First initiative. “Through unique partnerships with governments, the African Union, Africa CDC, donors and experts, Africa Frontline First is investing in professional community health workers that make populations healthier and by consequence make populations wealthier”, she said. H.E. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf made a compelling case for increased investments in professionalizing community health workers.

Community health workers are entering into a new era – Margaret Odera, Kenyan Community Health Worker

Margaret Odera, who is one of over 150,000 community health workers across Africa, shared her thoughts during a panel session on the significance of having community health workers advocate for themselves. Margaret, who is also a member of the forthcoming Africa Frontline First high-level council, highlighted that community health workers have often been left out of discussions and decisions that directly impact them. Being invited to give a contribution during the symposium is an indication that community health workers are entering into new dynamics. She believes inclusive discussions and work hold promise for a brighter future for community health workers in Africa. In addition to Margaret, there were over thirty community health workers from eighteen countries who participated in the symposium.

Countries are better positioned to receive funding for community health programs – Ann Ithibu, Country Investments & Knowledge Analyst, Financing Alliance for Health

Ann Ithibu found the bilateral meetings and workshops during the symposium to be the highlight of the event. Over thirty delegates from various African countries were trained on how to apply for funding from the Africa Frontline First Catalytic Fund, to strengthen their national community health systems. In a pre-conference event, delegates were trained on completing grant applications for their in-country community health programs. The Africa Frontline First Catalytic Fund is the first phase of Africa Frontline First. Hosted by Global Fund, the catalytic fund will disburse $100 million across eight African countries. The training and preparation of countries to receive funding for their community health programs is a crucial step to ensure these programs have the necessary resources to thrive and make a meaningful impact on healthcare access in Africa.

The 3rd International Community Health Workers Symposium was a landmark event that brought together stakeholders across Africa to discuss and advance community health. The event was organized by the Liberia Ministry of Health in collaboration with over twenty partners from the healthcare ecosystem.