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Communitization of Health: Reflections from IIHMR – FHS on climate health research to policy at the SOCHARA meet, Bangalore

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Communitization of Health: Reflections from IIHMR – FHS on climate health research to policy at the SOCHARA meet, Bangalore

Future Health Systems

By Lalitha Swathi Vadrevu and Shibaji Bose

In April 2016, FHS IIHMR presented their research on ‘Climate, Society and Health - Research to policy’ at a workshop in Bangalore, India examining complexities, at both the macro and micro level, of ensuring that climate health research informs polity. The workshop - which was attended by academics, post graduate students and civil society members with thematic expertise in agriculture, climate, food security and child rights - was being conducted to mark the silver jubilee celebrations of SOCHARA - an NGO committed to a community health approach to addressing public health problems.

A common theme that ran through all the sessions was communitization. From improving traditional knowledge systems of agriculture for conserving biodiversity and reducing food shortage, to leveraging the community for relief during disasters, the meeting showcased the need and the importance of a paradigm shift to a community-centered development agenda i.e. communitization.

Communitization is probably one of the few themes that is ubiquitous in national health policies, yet is absent, with much of the work on health still following a provider-beneficiary model. In the context of countries like India, making communities self-reliant and collective largely aligns with our decentralized system of managing health. We have over the years worked towards shifting the onus for health to more local levels. The examples are many; the village health and nutrition committees, rogikalyansamitis and most importantly the Panchayats for local self-governance. Yet, the community ownership for health is little to non-existent. The issue sparks some questions - Does institutionalizing community participation work in a sustainable way? How to strengthen and translate community-level knowledge to wider scale? How best to conduct community-centered research in an attempt to harness local knowledge systems?

When we talk about community-centered research, more often than not, community mobilization and research are assumed to be tangential to one another – the former based on an ideology and motivation, while the latter relies on the cold objectivities of scientific processes. In this context, we couldn’t help draw parallels with our current work under FHS. Communitizationof research has been an important lesson from our five-year long experience in research in the Sundarbans. How can research help build resilient and empowered communities for better health? How best to engage communities in the process of research and policy development? With theinvolvement of the local communities in action research projects like Photovoice, capacity building of local media civil society organizations for research uptake, and a sociological approach to understanding the challenges to healthcare in the Sundarban region, the project undoubtedly took on a community-oriented way of conducting research. Involving communities in research and development is most certainly critical on the road to research informing policy. FHS-IIHMR was very delighted to be a part of the SOCHARA platform as it gave an opportunity to disseminate Future Health Systems research evidence to a pan Indian audience.