United We Can- Combating Health Crises through Community Engagement

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02 March, 2023

Defining Community Engagement

Community engagement involves dynamic relationships and dialogue between community members and local health department staff, with varying degrees of community and health department involvement, decision-making and control. In public health, community engagement refers to efforts that promote a mutual exchange of information, ideas and resources between community members and the health department. While the health department shares its health expertise, services and other resources with the community through this process, the community can share its own wisdom and experiences to guide public health program initiatives. “Community” may include individuals, groups, organizations, and associations or informal networks that share common characteristics and interests based on place, issue, or identity based factors. These communities often have similar concerns, which can be shared with the health department to help create more relevant and effective health programs

The critical role of Community empowerment 

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. Empowering and bringing communities together to take part in health initiatives supplements the development of sustainable solutions to address health disparities. The involvement of local communities is imperative to promote health equity, foster collaborations, transformations and implement health programs. 

Community Engagement in Public Health

Local public health departments are charged with promoting overall community health and well-being and addressing the causes of disease and disability. First, to achieve these goals in the 21st century, local health departments need to engage diverse communities in developing a broad spectrum of solutions to today’s most pressing problems, including chronic diseases (the leading causes of death), health disparities, and other complex community health issues.  Second, drawing from a decade of experience in a relatively large local health department in California, this paper introduces a conceptual framework for community engagement in public health. It presents the Ladder of Community Participation as a way to illustrate a range of approaches that can be used to engage communities around both traditional and emerging public health issues.

In the year 2019, a measles outbreak occurred in the refugee camp (Al Nimr), East Darfur. During this crisis, community health committees played the main role in case finding and conducting a vaccination campaign to immunize children from 9 months to 15 years. They also conducted a hygiene awareness campaign with the Ministry of Health/Alight organization. The community health council carried out all of these activities as part of their participation in accordance with the training provided by the Ministry of Health on the community-based surveillance system. This case study reflects the importance of involving and empowering the community through all stages of the project and ensuring its sustainability.

As communities participate more in health initiatives, they bring more valuable perspectives, experiences, and insights, making it possible to develop more sustainable and tailored solutions.

Mohammed Elnour
Hygiene Specialist



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