This post was written by Melissa Chacko, Policy Associate, Global Health Council.
It is acknowledged that the key to successful community health interventions is creating community ownership and providing the necessary resources to design community-driven evidence-based sustainable solutions. This methodology is often referred to as human-centered design which is innovation that requires engaging people in order to understand their preferences. By including the “users” from the beginning, this ensures that participation after implementation of the program will be sustainable. While there are numerous examples of human-centered public health interventions, this approach is limited in policy-making. A possible area in global health that could benefit from a human-centered design policy approach are programs that target noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) and which place a large focus on analyzing human behavior to create preventive services within high-risk populations.
As seen in grassroots campaigns, the level of urgency and accountability to create robust health policies elevates when patient advocates and community health workers are involved in policy-making. With this in mind, those working to address NCDs might benefit from a human-centered design policy approach by including patients and community health workers in the policy-making process. The need for an increase in patient advocates in policy was highlighted at a panel, “Health, Global Goals, and Non-communicable Diseases: A Healthy, Safe Environment for Children and Youth,” held on the margins of the 2017 UN General Assembly (UNGA). The side event was sponsored by Global Health Council members and partners including NCD Child, NCD Alliance, International Pediatric Association, and American Academy of Pediatrics. Panelist Cajsa Lindberg, President of UNG Diabetes, stated, “The power of patient advocates is that they are the experts on what they want, what they need, and what needs to be changed. Data alone cannot cause change.” Patient advocates and community health workers involved with NCD advocacy are stakeholders in the policy process and therefore as “users” they need to be at the forefront of policy-making.
However, in order to prevent an echo chamber of thoughts and ideas among NCD programs and NCD advocates, it is essential that non-traditional health stakeholders are involved in the human-centered design policy process. This is crucial as NCD programs address the social determinants of health and the economic complexities of countries such as agriculture and trade. Including non-NGOs such as the private sector and non-health government departments like the agriculture department, could galvanize a new group of advocates outside of the health sector. Embedding multi-sector stakeholders at the beginning of the policy making process could also increase both the visibility and dialogue of NCD issues outside of the global health community. Moreover, synergizing the expertise of NCD patients and community health advocates with the leveraging power of non-traditional health stakeholders could increase pressure on legislators to move NCD policies forward and ensuring the sustainability of policies that address NCDs.
This is a visionary outlook of what the NCD programs human-centered policy approach can be. Bridging NCD programs and advocates with non-traditional stakeholders will first require highlighting the expertise and narratives of NCD patients and community health workers to address the need for a human-centered design approach. This will raise awareness and educate non-NGOs and legislators about the complexities of NCD prevention and treatment.
The NCD Roundtable is currently in the process of collecting these narratives to push these advocacy efforts. The Roundtable welcomes submissions, please email (firstname.lastname@example.org), for guidelines and instructions to submit.