The importance of community engagement (CE) for health system resilience is established in theoretical and empirical literature. The practical dimensions of how to operationalize theory and implement its principles have been less explored, especially within low-resource crisis settings. It is therefore unclear how CE is drawn upon and how, if at all, it facilitates health system resilience in times of health system crises. To address this critical gap, we adapt and apply existing theoretical CE frameworks to analyze qualitative data from 92 in-depth interviews and 16 focus group discussions collected with health system stakeholders in Liberia in the aftermath of the 2014-15 Ebola outbreak. Health system stakeholders indicated that CE was a crucial contributing factor in addressing the Ebola epidemic in Liberia.
Multiple forms of CE were used during the outbreak; however, only some forms were perceived as meaningful, such as the formation of community-based surveillance teams. To achieve meaningful CE, participants recommended that communities be treated as active participants in-as opposed to passive recipients of-health response efforts and that communication platforms for CE be established ahead of a crisis. Participant responses highlight that meaningful CE led to improved communication with increased trust in health authorities and programming.
This facilitated health system response efforts, leading to a fortuitous cycle of increased trust, improved communication and continued meaningful CE-all necessary conditions for health system resilience. This study refines our understanding of CE and demonstrates the ways in which meaningful CE and trust work together in mutually reinforcing and beneficial ways. These findings provide empirical evidence on which to base policies and programs aimed at improving health system resilience in low-resource settings to more effectively respond to health system crises.
Authors: Kathryn M Barker, Emilia J Ling, Mosoka Fallah, Brian VanDeBogert, Yvonne Kodl, Rose Jallah Macauley, K Viswanath, Margaret E Kruk