The following statement was issued by the Peooples’ Health Movement – South Africa, after Community-based health workers (CBHWs) were arrested in Bloemfontein.
The People’s Health Movement condemns the arrest of over 100 community health workers and Treatment Campaign activists in the Free State on Wednesday at the instigation of the MEC for health while they were staging a peaceful protest about their poor conditions of service after not having been paid for 2 months.
The foundations of both good health and good health care lie in the community. This simple fact is one of the fundamental principles of the Primary Health Care approach (PHC), the cornerstone of current government health policy. Community-based health workers (CBHWs) play a critical role in this.
At a basic level they provide essential home-based care to people with chronic health problems. They can demystify professional jargon and educate people about their conditions and their treatments, thus acting as a key link between community members and the health department. And beyond this, they can become community catalysts, mobilizing communities and facilitating their participation in addressing critical local determinants of health and community development, including water and sanitation, food security, personal safety and security, and housing.
CBHWs, as a crucial component of human resources for health, should be given formal employment in the health department, with good conditions of service. They also need adequate training and support from health professionals and the state to fulfil these. The National Development Plan recognises the importance of CBHWs, calling for the employment of a total of over 700 000 full-time and part-time CBHWs.
So why does the Free State Health Department act so aggressively towards CBHWs? Could it be that, in their community mobilising role, they could encourage communities to hold the health system accountable?
The People’s Health Movement demands the immediate release of all the arrested community health workers, the dropping of all charges against them, and immediate payment of all outstanding moneys owed to them.
Furthermore, the state should follow the recommendations concerning CBHWs in the National Development Plan, recognise the key roles they can play in advancing community health and development, and take effective action to implement the proposals.
Issued By the Peoples’ Health Movement South Africa – 11 July 2014
For comments, please contact
Chair, PHM South Africa