WHO South-East Asia Journal of Public Health
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Year : 2020  |  Volume : 9  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 82-91

Community action for health in India: evolution, lessons learnt and ways forward to achieve universal health coverage

1 World Health Organization Country Office for India, New Delhi, India
2 Population Foundation of India, New Delhi, India
3 Support for Advocacy and Training to Health Initiatives, Pune, Maharashtra, India
4 Self-Employed Women's Association Trust, Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India
5 Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India, New Delhi, India

Correspondence Address:
Dr Chandrakant Lahariya
World Health Organization Country Office for India, New Delhi
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DOI: 10.4103/2224-3151.283002

PMID: 32341227

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The role of civil society and community-based organizations in advancing universal health coverage and meeting the targets of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development has received renewed recognition from major global initiatives. This article documents the evolution and lessons learnt through two decades of experience in India at national, state and district levels. Community and civil society engagement in health services in India began with semi-institutional mechanisms under programmes focused on, for example, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, polio and immunization. A formal system of community action for health (CAH) started with the launch of the National Rural Health Mission in 2005. By December 2018, CAH processes were being implemented in 22 states, 353 districts and more than 200 000 villages in India. Successive evaluations have indicated improved performance on various service delivery parameters. One example of CAH is community-based monitoring and planning, which has been continuously expanded and strengthened in Maharashtra since 2007. This involves regular, participatory auditing of public health services, which facilitates the involvement of people in assessing the public health system and demanding improvements. At district level, CAH initiatives are successfully reaching “last-mile” communities. The Self-Employed Women’s Association, a cooperative-based organization of women working in the informal sector in Gujarat, has developed community information hubs that empower clients to access government social and health sector services. CAH initiatives in India are now being augmented by regular activities led and/or participated in by civil society organizations. This is contributing to the democratization of community and civil society engagement in health. Additional documentation on CAH and the further formalization of civil society engagement are needed. These developments provide a valuable opportunity both to improve governance and accountability in the health sector and to accelerate progress towards universal health coverage. Lessons learnt may be applicable to other countries in South-East Asia, as well as to most low- and middle-income countries.

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