Background: In light of increasing complexity of identifying and treating malaria cases in low transmission settings, operational solutions are needed to increase effective delivery of interventions. Community engagement (CE) is at the forefront of this conversation given the shift toward creating local and site-specific solutions. Malaria programmes often confuse CE with providing information to the community or implementing community-based interventions. This study seeks to expand on CE approaches for malaria by looking to a variety of health and development programmes for lessons that can be applied to malaria elimination.
Methods: Qualitative data was collected from key informant interviews and community-based focus group discussions. Manual analysis was conducted with a focus on key principles, programme successes and challenges, the operational framework, and any applicable results.
Results: Ten programmes were included in the analysis: Ebola, HIV/Hepatitis C, Guinea worm, malaria, nutrition, and water, sanitation and hygiene. Seven focus group discussions (FGDs) with 69 participants, 49 key informant (KI) interviews with programme staff, and 7 KI interviews with thought leaders were conducted between October-April 2018. Participants discussed the critical role that village leaders and community health workers play in CE. Many programmes stated understanding community priorities is key for CE and that CE should be proactive and iterative. A major theme was prioritizing bi-directional interpersonal communication led by local community health workers. Programmes reported that measuring CE is difficult, particularly since CE is ongoing and fluid.
Conclusions: Results overwhelmingly suggest that CE must be an iterative process that relies on early involvement, frequent feedback and active community participation to be successful. Empowering districts and communities in planning and executing community-based interventions is necessary. Communities affected by the disease will ultimately achieve malaria elimination. For this to happen, the community itself must define, believe in, and commit to strategies to interrupt transmission.
Keywords: Community buy-in; Community engagement; Community implementation; Community participation; Local leadership; Malaria elimination.