Improving Access to Community Clinics: Panchagarh DPF Promotes Better Public Health Services for All
Joynal Abedin always thought that community clinics only treated pregnant women. Then one day, members of the Panchagarh District Policy Forum (DPF) asked him to join their meeting on community health. Since then, his understanding of community clinics has completely changed. He was amazed to learn that a community clinic is a place where everyone can go to address minor ailments. As an imam in the neighbourhood, Abedin began talking about community clinics in his mosque and how they were helping the community. Like Joynal Abedin, there are many in Panchagarh who are still unaware that the 111 community clinics in the district provide free basic treatment and medicine.
The District Policy Forum (DPF) of Panchagarh working with Platforms for Dialogue (P4D), has decided to raise awareness of community clinic services and galvanise the community clinic management committees into action. So far, The DPF members have organised seminars and workshops (both online and offline) to spread awareness of Social Accountability Tools (SAT) and how to use them to improve the quality of these community clinics.
The District Policy Forum is P4D’s newest initiative that is working to strengthen civil society and government accountability mechanisms in Bangladesh using four key social accountability tools (SATs) – the Citizen’s Charter (CC), Right to Information (RTI), National Integrity Strategy (NIS), and Grievance Redress System (GRS). Funded by European Union and implemented by British Council in partnership with the Government of Bangladesh’s Cabinet Division, P4D has formed 12 DPFs in 12 of the country’s districts focusing on three crucial issues – quality education, child marriage, and health care in community clinics. The primary goal of the DPFs is to use the SATs to influence the District Administrations and encourage action and improvement regarding the targeted issues. P4D Panchagarh District Facilitator, Rekta Parvin, played a key role in forming the DPF, which is comprised of 20 members including journalists, local government representatives, MAP members, and Civil Society Organisation (CSO) members.
To begin, the Panchagarh DPF made people aware that community clinic services are available for all kinds of people regardless of their age, gender, or socio-economic status. They had noticed that only women went to the clinics for treatment. So, the policy forum started inviting local leaders—such as the imam, chairman, headmaster, and so on—to their meetings to encourage local leaders to spread the word and convey how these clinics function to their community base. DPF member Lutfar Rahman said,
“men not coming to the community clinics is a big problem. So, we asked the local leaders to help us raise awareness.”
Following their initial efforts, the Panchagarh policy forum encouraged the community clinic management committee and community support group to take action. When people learned about community clinic services through the forum’s workshops and the civil surgeon, who is the top health official of the district, they started visiting community clinics. With this, clinic services began to improve and some clinics that used to remain closed started opening more regularly. One such clinic is the Magura Community Clinic. A health care provider of the Chaklahat Union Community Clinic had been more focused on politics and was not sincere about his responsibility as a medical practitioner. However, the Panchagarh DPF members managed to persuade him to take his job seriously and sincerely provide care for patients in his area.
People returning home without receiving medical assistance because facilities lack the proper personnel is a common problem. This is particularly frustrating for villagers who have to walk back home or wait in uncertainty. The District Policy Forum has sought to remedy this situation by simply convincing the community clinic attendants to use stickers stating when they will be back. The community clinics have also agreed to hang Citizen’s Charters for people to read and learn about available services. Thanks to these interventions, community clinics have now become more accessible and functional for the people of Panchagarh.
Besides their work to improve community clinics, the DPF has worked to raise awareness about the SATs. Aktarunnahar Saki, the Panchagarh DPF General Secretary says, “it is a challenge to teach the general masses about SATs, but we managed to do it.” Besides its campaign and regular meetings, the policy forum has celebrated Youth Day, Anti-corruption Day, and RTI Day as well. Their meetings highlighted the importance and use of GRS, NIS, CC, and RTI at length, and the general public was invited to take part. Saki said, “the Panchagarh DPF provided a platform for people where they could ask questions and hold local officials accountable.”
"The public was really delighted to learn that they could actually file formal complaints,”
says DPF President Alauddin Prodhan. After attending these programmes, government officials were also inspired to improve community clinics.
“People are receiving better services from us now because of the DPF’s interventions,”
says Md. Azad Hossain, the Additional Deputy Commissioner of Panchagarh. In addition, the Panchagarh policy forum has successfully educated the public on SATs in collaboration with government officials.
To date, Panchagarh DPF has done a great service for its community by improving local healthcare services through collaborative efforts. DPF members have also expressed their hope that this project is extended to last more than just a year. “This is an unprecedented initiative, which has just started to yield results. We do not want it to end before these good practices become a habit,” said DPF president, Alauddin Prodhan.
Altarum Nahar Saki, Secretary, DPF-Panchagarh said,
“we want to keep on working with P4D’s goals and objectives in mind. I would say, the DPF is going to be a sustainable forum. We will not close the signboard of DPF, and it can proceed with this signboard in front. We, the members, come from different institutional backgrounds. Everyone is representing their respective institutions. When several institutions or organisations are represented, in some way, the DPF starts functioning like a self-sustaining organisation with goals, objectives, and plans of its own. DC, Panchagarh has called the DPF a powerful forum because it has significant influence in the community, and he wants to utilise it in the future.”