By Michelle Kouletio
It doesn't happen enough, but every once in a while a seed of a sustainable health intervention is planted in the ground. In this case, the seed was planted at the doorstep of a mayor's office in northwestern Bangladesh, amid narrow, busy roads with open sewers of common of bustling secondary cities. Among the middle class families live the extreme poor. Along with several other challenges, the poor are failed by the government health system whose facilities are overwhelmed by patient volume and whose outreach workers do not serve. While national policy assigned elected municipal leaders with responsibility for ensuring coverage of equitable health services, these leaders were provided little guidance nor resources.
With support from the USAID Child Survival and Health Grants Program, Concern Worldwide worked in this and other municipalities in Bangladesh to empower municipal leaders to develop a replicable model for social mobilization in complex urban environments. What made this project unique from so many well intended and ambitious community health projects was the embedment of a systematic sustainability planning and monitoring system that established a shared vision and measurement framework across the Mayor’s office, elected representatives, service providers, social leaders and health volunteers along with the project team.
As the technical advisor for Concern Worldwide, I had the privilege of backstopping this initiative. It took quite of bit of extra effort, particularly in developing practical capacity measuring tools from scratch and maintaining regular reviews at the neighborhood and municipality level. Sustainability planning also required tackling structural barriers and inter-ministerial relations which could have otherwise been ignored in a conventional project. However, the benefits of this deeper analysis and shared accountability approach resulted in real improvements in equitable health outcomes and an enduring political mobilization approach that allowed the population to continue reaping benefits years after the project closed.
Two recently published articles on this work further validate the importance of the hard work of the Concern Worldwide staff in Bangladesh and their contribution to the developing body of evidence on adaptive health systems and sustainability planning:
Advancing the application of systems thinking in health: sustainability evaluation as learning and sense-making in a complex urban health system in Northern Bangladesh
Community Health Systems as Complex Adaptive Systems: Ontology and Praxis Lessons from an Urban Health Experience with Demonstrated Sustainability
Post-script from Eric Sarriot:
These two papers coincide in their release to form a useful series on the Concern CSHGP Bangladesh experience. The first one is part of a larger and important Supplement of Health Research Policy and Systems on Systems Thinking in Health, coordinated by Taghreed Adam of WHO’s Alliance for Health Policy and Systems Research.
Link to Dr David Peters’ introduction, The application of systems thinking in health: why use systems thinking?