WHY localization matters in health emergency response – Global

Alongside health authorities, non-state health actors are important partners in the fight against epidemics and the response to health emergencies.

Communities are not passive subjects of health interventions. The involvement of community health actors increases community acceptance of a health response that saves lives.

  • NGOs and local health actors are already on the ground at the start of a crisis and are essential first responders to help break the chain of transmission (in the event of an outbreak) or mobilize vital movements of supplies or people before local/national authorities (MOH) or UN/INGO support can arrive.

  • In a multidimensional conflict where access is limited, NGOs and local health actors are better placed to reach populations across lines of control or difficult terrain. Local communities know their landscape best and national, UN and INGO partners can work with them (e.g. in case finding, contact tracing) to ensure continuity of service delivery in a way that takes into account the security risks of local actors.

  • Local and community members of the Health Cluster are best placed to be immediately involved and put to work in a response as partners/stakeholders under any Incident Management System (IMS) set up as part of the WHO ERF. Local actors may have experience working with other UN agencies/clusters and may have skills and capacities that can be useful for the health response.

Working with local health actors helps health authorities and WHO jointly identify and respond to social patterns of transmission at the community level. As seen in countries with large urban-rural divides such as DR Congo, communities may have their own perception of risk that influences their acceptance of health advice and may prefer local health actors who are seen to have more empathy despite their lack of expertise. This does not preclude a role for health experts, but rather gives community actors a role in sensitizing the community on the need for expert health advice to be accepted and followed.

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