Sudan’s community dialogues empower disadvantaged populations to decide on their health priorities

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© WHO/North Darfur Sub-office

When violence erupted in Darfur in 2004, Bahja Ahmed and her five young children were forced to leave their village. They had spent 12 years living in a camp for internally displaced people (IDPs) in North Darfur State and returned to their home village in 2018 following the signing of the Doha Peace Agreement.

“We returned to our homeland with hope to regain what we lost during the conflict and displacement, but unfortunately we lack basic services. Our health centre was also destroyed during the war,” said Bahja.

To obtain health care, she had to travel long distances by lorry or donkey to the nearest city and pay for services. She often could not afford it.

WHO, through the UHC Partnership, underscores that supporting vulnerable communities in a post-conflict environment requires a meaningful and community-driven approach to find pragmatic and workable solutions. Working in close collaboration with the Ministry of Health and local health authorities, WHO established a process to actively involve communities in improving local health services. Through regular participatory meetings between communities and local health authorities, people like Bahja and their families are now able to identify their health needs and priorities and support concrete steps to rebuild and improve services.

Health equity means leaving no one behind

Community engagement is an important and integral process for any health system development, especially to improve health equity and achieve universal health coverage (UHC). Pursuing health equity means striving for the highest possible standard of health for all people and giving special attention to the needs of those who are at the highest risk of poor health, because of their low socioeconomic conditions.

Community health dialogues bring together communities, local authorities, local health partners such as non-government organizations and community-based organizations to discuss health priorities and concerns, and envisage a way to prioritize and plan for better health outcomes.

In the communities in Darfur, the team and the community members discussed health challenges, epidemics and crises in the area, as well as the response and performance of the health team and coordination mechanisms. The communities made suggestions to improve the performance of the health team. In turn, the health team proposed what the community could do to contribute to better health outcomes in the locality.

With future funding and support, this community engagement process will be replicated in ten other states in Sudan.

Responding to COVID-19

The COVID-19 crisis has exacerbated existing vulnerabilities in the population and further compromises Sudan’s efforts to build its democracy, economy and other systems including the health system.

Sudan had its first community-acquired case of COVID-19 in March 2020, and the government announced a national health emergency. WHO worked to enhance coordination mechanisms with health partners, bringing in development partners and the humanitarian cluster to draw and mobilize resources to support the national COVID-19 response plan. The European Commission was a strong supporter of the humanitarian-development nexus, to strengthen the health system to respond to the pandemic, and the UHC Partnership has played a key role to engage partners and ensure a strong national response to COVID-19.

Sudan is among the 115 countries and areas to which the UHC Partnership helps deliver WHO support and technical expertise in advancing UHC with a primary health care approach. The Partnership is funded by the European Union (EU), the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, Irish Aid, the Government of Japan, the French Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs, the United Kingdom – Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office and Belgium.