This paper examines the concept and practice of community participation in World Bank-supported health sector reforms in Asia, and how far such participation has strengthened accountability with regard to provision of sexual and reproductive health (SRH) services. It argues that the envisaged scope of community participation within a majority of reforms in Asia has been limited to programme management and service delivery, and it is occurring within the boundaries of priorities that are defined through non-participatory processes. Setting up of community health structures, decentralization and community financing are three important strategies used for promoting participation and accountability within reforms. The scant evidence on the impact of these strategies suggests that marginalized groups and sexual and reproductive rights based groups are poorly represented in the forums for participation, and that hierarchies of power between and amongst health personnel and the public play out in these forums. Community financing has not lead to enhanced service accountability. As a result of the above limitations, community participation in health sector reforms has rarely strengthened accountability with respect to provision of comprehensive SRH services. In this context, rights (including sexual and reproductive) based groups and researchers need to engage with design, monitoring and evaluation of health sector reforms, both from inside as participants and outside as pressure groups. Participation contracts enhancing powers of civil society representatives, quotas for participation (for women, other marginalized groups and rights-based organizations), and investment in capacity building of these stakeholders on leadership and sexual reproductive rights and health are pre-requisites if participation is to lead to health and SRH service accountability. Community participation and service accountability hence requires more and not less investment of resources by the state.
Copyright 2004 Oxford University Press