BACKGROUND: Community participation in priority setting in health systems has gained importance all over the world, particularly in resource-poor settings where governments have often failed to provide adequate public-sector services for their citizens. Incorporation of public views into priority setting is perceived as a means to restore trust, improve accountability, and secure cost-effective priorities within healthcare. However, few studies have reported empirical experiences of involving communities in priority setting in developing countries. The aim of this article is to provide the experience of implementing community participation and the challenges of promoting it in the context of resource-poor settings, weak organizations, and fragile democratic institutions.
DESIGN: Key informant interviews were conducted with the Council Health Management Team (CHMT), community representatives, namely women, youth, elderly, disabled, and people living with HIV/AIDS, and other stakeholders who participated in the preparation of the district annual budget and health plans. Additionally, minutes from the Action Research Team and planning and priority-setting meeting reports were analyzed.
RESULTS: A number of benefits were reported: better identification of community needs and priorities, increased knowledge of the community representatives about priority setting, increased transparency and accountability, promoted trust among health systems and communities, and perceived improved quality and accessibility of health services. However, lack of funds to support the work of the selected community representatives, limited time for deliberations, short notice for the meetings, and lack of feedback on the approved priorities constrained the performance of the community representatives. Furthermore, the findings show the importance of external facilitation and support in enabling health professionals and community representatives to arrive at effective working arrangement.
CONCLUSION: Community participation in priority setting in developing countries, characterized by weak democratic institutions and low public awareness, requires effective mobilization of both communities and health systems. In addition, this study confirms that community participation is an important element in strengthening health systems.
CoAction Publishing, 2013. Vol. 6, 22669- p.