April 7th is World Health Day – this year it feels especially important to reflect on the ways our health affects general wellbeing.
Aside from the obvious health implications, the coronavirus hit communities hard — in our everyday routines, social connections, and networks. But this type of health crisis also highlights the sinister truth that our world is deeply unequal. Affordable, quality health care services are not accessible for millions of people worldwide, and already marginalized communities are hit disproportionately hard. In the words of the World Health Organization, “[COVID-19’s] impact has been harshest on those communities which were already vulnerable, who are more exposed to the disease, less likely to have access to quality health care services and more likely to experience adverse consequences as a result of measures implemented to contain the pandemic.” If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that community engagement can help us be more proactive and resilient, as well as agile when an urgent response is needed.
Community care and recovery
Crises and hardships highlight the importance of tight-knit communities—symbiotic networks of people who live in close proximity to each other, work together to make the neighborhood run smoothly, and look after each other. These crises also show the importance of local governments prioritizing community-building and dialogue within their policy and decision-making processes. As various countries organize large-scale vaccine roll-outs and carefully gaze ahead at a post-pandemic recovery, community engagement will become a non-negotiable for building back better. In fact, some local governments and organizations have already paved the way for good practices in health-related community engagement projects.
Even before the pandemic, the Care Quality Commission (CQC), the independent regulator of all health and social care services in England, launched an online participation platform in 2019 to gain insights into people’s general needs and the issues concerning health and social care. Over 6,900 participants registered on the platform to weigh in on their priorities.
Since the pandemic, community engagement has further helped unite communities and provide support to those in need. Rueil-Malmaison, a French commune in the western suburbs of Paris, launched a local participation platform that exceeded its initial purpose after France went into lockdown in March 2020. Initially created for a general participatory budgeting project, the platform rapidly became a central hub to share information, coordinate local volunteering efforts, and organize online community events. More than 30,000 hand-sewn masks and 6,000 food baskets were distributed by volunteers thanks to mobilization on their community engagement platform.
The way forward
As we alluded to, in many parts of the world vaccination campaigns are in full swing. According to Bloomberg data, “over 673 million doses have been administered across 155 countries,” making this “the biggest vaccination campaign in history.” With roughly 16.2 million vaccines being administered every day, it’s time to consider – what’s next? How will we recover from this crisis, and can we do so inclusively? What do we need to rebuild our communities? And in rebuilding them, can we put community priorities first? These are questions that (local) governments cannot answer alone—input from community members will be ever so important.
This World Health Day merits reflecting on what this health crisis has taught us. Building more resilient communities for the future will require engaging residents across the many topics that affect their day-to-day lives, including health. Community engagement can help local governments tap into their communities’ collective intelligence, set the right priorities for restorative decision-making, and create a post-pandemic world that benefits everyone more equitably.
Thank you to the many essential workers, across sectors, who have worked tirelessly to keep our communities healthy and running over the course of the pandemic.