The Public Health Resource Network is an innovative distance-learning course in training, motivating, empowering and building a network of health personnel from government and civil society groups. Its aim is to build human resource capacity for strengthening decentralized health planning, especially at the district level, to improve accountability of health systems, elicit community participation for health, ensure equitable and accessible health facilities and to bring about convergence in programmes and services.
The question confronting health systems in India is how best to reform, revitalize and resource primary health systems to deliver different levels of service aligned to local realities, ensuring universal coverage, equitable access, efficiency and effectiveness, through an empowered cadre of health personnel. To achieve these outcomes it is essential that health planning be decentralized. Districts vary widely according to the specific needs of their population, and even more so in terms of existing interventions and available resources. Strategies, therefore, have to be district-specific, not only because health needs vary, but also because people's perceptions and capacities to intervene and implement programmes vary. In centrally designed plans there is little scope for such adaptation and contextualization, and hence decentralized planning becomes crucial.
To undertake these initiatives, there is a strong need for trained, motivated, empowered and networked health personnel. It is precisely at this level that a lack of technical knowledge and skills and the absence of a supportive network or adequate educational opportunities impede personnel from making improvements. The absence of in-service training and of training curricula that reflect field realities also adds to this, discouraging health workers from pursuing effective strategies.
The Public Health Resource Network is thus an attempt to reach out to motivated though often isolated health workers. It interacts with, and works to empower, health personnel within the government health system as well as civil society, to meaningfully participate in and strengthen decentralized planning processes and outcomes. Structured as an innovative distance-learning course spread over 12 to 18 months of coursework and contact programmes, the Public Health Resource Network comprises 14 core modules and five optional courses. The technical content and contact programmes have been specifically developed to build perspectives and technical knowledge of participants and provide them with a variety of options that can be immediately put into practice within their work environments and everyday roles. The thematic areas of the course modules range from technical knowledge related to maternal and child health and communicable and noncommunicable diseases; programmatic and systemic knowledge related to health planning, convergence, health management and public-private partnerships; to perspective-building knowledge related to mainstreaming gender issues and community participation. Currently the Public Health Resource Network has been launched in four states of India – Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Bihar and Orissa – in its first phase, and reaches out to more than 500 participants with diverse backgrounds. The initiative has received valuable support from central and state government departments of health, state training institutes, the National Rural Health Mission – the current comprehensive health policy in the country – and leading civil society organizations.