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1.  Perceptions and utilization of primary health care services in Iraq: findings from a national household survey 
Background
After many years of sanctions and conflict, Iraq is rebuilding its health system, with a strong emphasis on the traditional hospital-based services. A network exists of public sector hospitals and clinics, as well as private clinics and a few private hospitals. Little data are available about the approximately 1400 Primary Health Care clinics (PHCCs) staffed with doctors. How do Iraqis utilize primary health care services? What are their preferences and perceptions of public primary health care clinics and private primary care services in general? How does household wealth affect choice of services?
Methods
A 1256 household national survey was conducted in the catchment areas of randomly selected PHCCs in Iraq. A cluster of 10 households, beginning with a randomly selected start household, were interviewed in the service areas of seven public sector PHCC facilities in each of 17 of Iraq's 18 governorates. A questionnaire was developed using key informants. Teams of interviewers, including both males and females, were recruited and provided a week of training which included field practice. Teams then gathered data from households in the service areas of randomly selected clinics.
Results
Iraqi participants are generally satisfied with the quality of primary care services available both in the public and private sector. Private clinics are generally the most popular source of primary care, however the PHCCs are utilized more by poorer households. In spite of free services available at PHCCs many households expressed difficulty in affording health care, especially in the purchase of medications. There is no evidence of informal payments to secure health services in the public sector.
Conclusions
There is widespread satisfaction reported with primary health care services, and levels did not differ appreciably between public and private sectors. The public sector PHCCs are preferentially used by poorer populations where they are important providers. PHCC services are indeed free, with little evidence of informal payments to providers.
doi:10.1186/1472-698X-11-15
PMCID: PMC3266634  PMID: 22176866
3.  Unpacking rights in indigenous African societies: indigenous culture and the question of sexual and reproductive rights in Africa 
Background
Modern declarations on human rights have often proceeded without reference to the cultural content of rights, the existence of rights in African indigenous backgrounds, and the embodiment of certain key rights in the community itself. This paper is an attempt at developing an ‘inventory’ of rights in African cultures as a prelude to the generation both of a holistic theory of rights as well as a research agenda that can recognize the multifaceted nature of rights.
Methods
We use an interpretive ethnographic approach built on three sources of data: 1) our continuing ethnographic work among two distinct ethnic groups in southeastern Nigeria – the Ubang and the Igbo; 2) informal conversational interviews with individuals from a range of African countries; and 3) a review of relevant literature based on African cultures which provides a context for some of the issues we raise.
Results
An examination of selected indigenous rights, entitlements, or privileges among the Ubang and Igbo illustrates indigenous culture as a key, but often neglected, axis of rights, as a critical framework for understanding human relationships with rights, and as a resource for, and challenge to, contemporary programmatic efforts focusing on universalized notions of rights. Understanding or interpreting rights in African settings within the framework defined by contemporary human rights discourse poses steep challenges to making progress in the realization of sexual and reproductive rights.
Conclusions
Despite the potential dangers of privileging group rights over individual rights, when important rights are vested in the community; rights, entitlements, and privileges can also be recognized through community experiences, and realized through engagement with communities. Building on communal conceptualizations of rights in order to realize an even wider range of rights remains a largely unexplored strategy which holds promise for the achievement of sexual and reproductive health rights.
doi:10.1186/1472-698X-11-S3-S2
PMCID: PMC3287458  PMID: 22375959
4.  Human rights and reproductive health: political realities and pragmatic choices for married adolescent women living in urban slums, Bangladesh 
Background
In Bangladesh, particularly in urban slums, married adolescent women’s human rights to life, health, and reproductive and sexual health remain adversely affected because of the structural inequalities and political economic, social and cultural conditions which shape how rights are understood, negotiated and lived.
Methods
The focus of the research and methods was anthropological. An initial survey of 153 married adolescent women was carried out and from this group, 50 in-depth interviews were conducted with selected participants and, from the in-depth interviews, a further eight case studies of women and their families were selected for in-depth repeated interviews and case histories.
Results
This paper speaks of the unanticipated complexities when writing on reproductive rights for poor adolescent women living in the slums, where the discourses on ‘universal human rights’ are often removed from the reality of adolescent women’s everyday lives. Married adolescent women and their families remain extremely vulnerable in the unpredictable, crime-prone and insecure urban slum landscape because of their age, gender and poverty. Adolescent women’s understanding of their rights such as the decision to marry early, have children, terminate pregnancies and engage in risky sexual behaviour, are different from the widely accepted discourse on rights globally, which assumes a particular kind of individual thinking and discourse on rights and a certain autonomy women have over their bodies and their lives. This does not necessarily exist in urban slum populations.
Conclusions
The lived experiences and decisions made pertaining to sexual and reproductive health and ‘rights’ exercised by married adolescent women, their families and slum communities, allow us to reflect on the disconnect between the international legal human rights frameworks as applied to sexual and reproductive health rights, and how these are played out on the ground. These notions are far more complex in environments where married adolescent women and their families live in conditions of poverty and socioeconomic deprivation.
doi:10.1186/1472-698X-11-S3-S3
PMCID: PMC3287459  PMID: 22376023
5.  Ten years of negotiating rights around maternal health in Uttar Pradesh, India 
Background
Preventable maternal mortality and morbidity have been globally recognized as human rights issues. Maternal mortality in India is among the highest in the world, and reflects inequity in access to healthcare: women from certain states as well as poorer women and less literate women appear to be significantly disadvantaged. The government of India has been attempting to improve maternal outcomes through a cash transfer within the National Rural Health Mission to encourage women to come to hospitals for childbirth.
Methods
This paper reviews documents of the last ten years describing the experiences of a Non-Governmental Organisation, SAHAYOG, in working with a civil society platform, the Healthwatch Forum, to develop ‘rights based’ strategies around maternal health. The paper builds an analysis using recent frameworks on accountability and gendered rights claiming to examine these experiences and draw out lessons regarding rights claiming strategies for poor women.
Results
The examination of documents over the last ten years indicates defined phases of development in the evolution of SAHAYOG’s understanding and of the shifts in strategy among SAHAYOG and its close allies, and responses by the state. The first three stages depict the deepening of SAHAYOG’s understanding of the manner in which poor and marginalized women negotiate their access to health care; the fourth stage explores a health system intervention and the challenges of working from within civil society in alliance with poor and marginalized women.
Conclusion
The findings from SAHAYOG’s experiences with poor Dalit women in Uttar Pradesh reveal the elements of social exclusion within the health system that prevent poor and marginalized women from accessing effective lifesaving care. Creating a voice for the most marginalised and carving space for its articulation impacts upon the institutions and actors that have a duty to meet the claims being made. However, given the accountability deficit, the analysis indicates the importance of going beyond the normative to developing actor-oriented perspectives within rights based approaches, to take into account the complexity of the negotiating process that goes into claiming any kind of entitlements.
doi:10.1186/1472-698X-11-S3-S4
PMCID: PMC3287460  PMID: 22376057
6.  Sexuality, rights and personhood: tensions in a transnational world 
Background
This article discusses what happens when normative ‘global’ discourses of rights and individuated sexual identity confront the messiness of ‘local’ realities. It considers the tensions that emerge when the relationship between sexual and social identities is not obvious and the implications of such tensions for public health and sexual rights activism. These questions are addressed through debates over the naming of male-to-male sexualities and desires in the context of globalization and the growth of a large NGO (non-governmental organization) sector in urban Bangladesh.
Methods
The material in the paper draws on a research project undertaken in 2008-9 in Dhaka, Bangladesh. A fundamental objective was to produce a contextualized understanding of sexuality in Dhaka city. Methods used included structured interviews, focus group discussions and informal conversations with a range of participants (students, factory workers, public health professionals and sexual minorities). The aim was to generate a conceptual and analytical framework around sexuality and rights rather than to undertake an empirical survey of any one population.
Results
As descriptors, globalized identity categories such as Men who have Sex with Men (MSM), used by public health providers, the state and donors; and gay/lesbian, invoked by human rights activists and transnational NGOs, are too narrow to capture the fluid and highly context-specific ways in which gender and sexually nonconforming persons understand themselves in Bangladesh. Further, class position mediates to a significant degree the reception, appropriation or rejection of transnational categories such as MSM and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (LGBT). The tension is reflected in the sometimes fraught relations between service providers to MSM, the people they serve and an emerging group who identify as LGBT.
Conclusion
A simple politics of recognition will be inadequate to the task of promoting health and human rights for all; such a strategy would effectively exclude individuals who do not necessarily connect their sexual practices with a specific sexual or social identity.
doi:10.1186/1472-698X-11-S3-S5
PMCID: PMC3287461  PMID: 22376124
7.  Can rights stop the wrongs? Exploring the connections between framings of sex workers’ rights and sexual and reproductive health 
Background
There is growing interest in the ways in which legal and human rights issues related to sex work affect sex workers’ vulnerability to HIV and abuses including human trafficking and sexual exploitation. International agencies, such as UNAIDS, have called for decriminalisation of sex work because the delivery of sexual and reproductive health services is affected by criminalisation and social exclusion as experienced by sex workers. The paper reflects on the connections in various actors’ framings between sex workers sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) and the ways that international law is interpreted in policing and regulatory practices.
Methods
The literature review that informs this paper was carried out by the authors in the course of their work within the Paulo Longo Research Initiative. The review covered academic and grey literature such as resources generated by sex worker rights activists, UN policy positions and print and online media. The argument in this paper has been developed reflectively through long term involvement with key actors in the field of sex workers’ rights.
Results
International legislation characterises sex work in various ways which do not always accord with moves toward decriminalisation. Law, policy and regulation at national level and law enforcement vary between settings. The demands of sex worker rights activists do relate to sexual and reproductive health but they place greater emphasis on efforts to remove the structural barriers that limit sex workers’ ability to participate in society on an equal footing with other citizens.
Discussion and conclusion
There is a tension between those who wish to uphold the rights of sex workers in order to reduce vulnerability to ill-health and those who insist that sex work is itself a violation of rights. This is reflected in contemporary narratives about sex workers’ rights and the ways in which different actors interpret human rights law. The creation of regulatory frameworks around sex work that support health, safety and freedom from abuse requires a better understanding of the broad scope of laws, policies and enforcement practices in different cultural contexts and economic settings, alongside reviews of UN policies and human rights conventions.
doi:10.1186/1472-698X-11-S3-S6
PMCID: PMC3287462  PMID: 22376152
8.  Framing rights and responsibilities: accounts of women with a history of AIDS activism 
Background
In South Africa, policy with respect to HIV/AIDS has had a strong rights-based framing in line with international trends and in keeping with the constitutional overhaul in the post-Apartheid era. There have also been considerable advances since 1994 towards legal enshrinement of sexual and reproductive health rights and in the provision of related services. Since HIV in this setting has heavily affected women of reproductive age, there has been discussion about the particular needs of this subgroup, especially in the context of service integration. This paper is concerned with the way in which HIV positive women conceptualise these rights and whether they wish and are able to actualise them in their daily lives.
Methods
In 2003 a group of women involved with the Treatment Action Campaign and Medicines Sans Frontières participated in an initiative to ‘map’ their bodies as affected by the virus. A book containing the maps and narratives was published and used as a political tool to pressure the government of the day to roll out antiretroviral therapy (ART) to the population. In 2008, the authors coordinated an initiative that involved conducting follow-up in-depth interviews in which five of these women reflected on those body maps and on how their lives had changed in the intervening five years since gaining the right to treatment through the public sector.
Results
Drawing upon this qualitative data and published sources, these new accounts are analysed in order to reflect the perspectives of these women living with chronic HIV with respect to their sexual relations and fertility desires. The paper reveals difficulties faced by these women in negotiating sexual relationships and disclosure of their HIV positive status. It focuses on how they perceive relative responsibilities in terms of taking preventative measures in sexual encounters. Women adopt tactics within a context characterised by various inequalities in order to ‘make do’, such as by remaining silent about their status. Concerns about childbearing can be addressed by information and support from a health care worker.
Conclusions
Women’s experience of HIV as a chronic illness and the need to adhere to ART, is linked to the way in which the language of responsibility can come to counter-balance a language of rights in treatment programmes.
doi:10.1186/1472-698X-11-S3-S7
PMCID: PMC3287463  PMID: 22376178
9.  Operationalising sexual and reproductive health and rights in sub-Saharan Africa: constraints, dilemmas and strategies 
Background
The continued poor sexual and reproductive health (SRH) outcomes in sub-Saharan Africa highlight the difficulties in reforming policies and laws, and implementing effective programmes. This paper uses one international and two national case studies to reflect on the challenges, dilemmas and strategies used in operationalising sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) in different African contexts.
Methods
The international case study focuses on the progress made by African countries in implementing the African Union’s Maputo Plan of Action (for the Operationalisation of the Continental Policy Framework for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights) and the experiences of state and non-state stakeholders in this process. The case was developed from an evaluation report of the progress made by nine African countries in implementing the Plan of Action, qualitative interviews exploring stakeholders’ experiences and perceptions of the operationalisation of the plan (carried out as part of the evaluation) in Botswana and Nigeria, and authors’ reflections. The first national case study explores the processes involved in influencing Ghana’s Domestic Violence Act passed in 2007; developed from a review of scientific papers and organisational publications on the processes involved in influencing the Act, qualitative interview data and authors’ reflections. The second national case study examines the experiences with introducing the 2006 Sexual Offences Act in Kenya, and it is developed from organisational publications on the processes of enacting the Act and a review of media reports on the debates and passing of the Act.
Results
Based on the three cases, we argue that prohibitive laws and governments’ reluctance to institute and implement comprehensive rights approaches to SRH, lack of political leadership and commitment to funding SRHR policies and programmes, and dominant negative cultural framing of women’s issues present the major obstacles to operationalising SRH rights. Analysis of successes points to the strategies for tackling these challenges, which include forming and working through strategic coalitions, employing strategic framing of SRHR issues to counter opposition and gain support, collaborating with government, and employing strategic opportunism.
Conclusion
The strategies identified show future pathways through which challenges to the realisation of SRHR in Africa can be tackled.
doi:10.1186/1472-698X-11-S3-S8
PMCID: PMC3287464  PMID: 22376197
10.  Evaluation of knowledge levels amongst village AIDS committees after undergoing HIV educational sessions: results from a pilot study in rural Tanzania 
Background
Village AIDS committees (VAC) were formed by the Tanzanian government in 2003 to provide HIV education to their communities. However, their potential has not been realised due to their limited knowledge and misconceptions surrounding HIV, which could be addressed through training of VAC members. In an attempt to increase HIV knowledge levels and address common misconceptions amongst the VACs, an HIV curriculum was delivered to members in rural north western Tanzania.
Methods
An evaluation of HIV knowledge was conducted prior to and post-delivery of HIV training sessions, within members of three VACs in Kisesa ward. Quantitative surveys were used with several open-ended questions to identify local misconceptions and evaluate HIV knowledge levels. Short educational training sessions covering HIV transmission, prevention and treatment were conducted, with each VAC using quizzes, role-plays and participatory learning and action tools. Post-training surveys occurred up to seven days after the final training session.
Results
Before the training, "good" HIV knowledge was higher amongst men than women (p = 0.041), and among those with previous HIV education (p = 0.002). The trade-centre had a faster turn-over of VAC members, and proximity to the trade-centre was associated with a shorter time on the committee.
Training improved HIV knowledge levels with more members achieving a "good" score in the post-training survey compared with the baseline survey (p = < 0.001). The training programme was popular, with 100% of participants requesting further HIV training in the future and 51.7% requesting training at three-monthly intervals.
Conclusions
In this setting, a series of HIV training sessions for VACs demonstrated encouraging results, with increased HIV knowledge levels following short educational sessions. Further work is required to assess the success of VAC members in disseminating this HIV education to their communities, as well as up-scaling this pilot study to other regions in Tanzania with different misconceptions.
doi:10.1186/1472-698X-11-14
PMCID: PMC3262745  PMID: 22165999
11.  An approach to addressing governance from a health system framework perspective 
As countries strive to strengthen their health systems in resource constrained contexts, policy makers need to know how best to improve the performance of their health systems. To aid these decisions, health system stewards should have a good understanding of how health systems operate in order to govern them appropriately. While a number of frameworks for assessing governance in the health sector have been proposed, their application is often hindered by unrealistic indicators or they are overly complex resulting in limited empirical work on governance in health systems. This paper reviews contemporary health sector frameworks which have focused on defining and developing indicators to assess governance in the health sector. Based on these, we propose a simplified approach to look at governance within a common health system framework which encourages stewards to take a systematic perspective when assessing governance. Although systems thinking is not unique to health, examples of its application within health systems has been limited. We also provide an example of how this approach could be applied to illuminate areas of governance weaknesses which are potentially addressable by targeted interventions and policies. This approach is built largely on prior literature, but is original in that it is problem-driven and promotes an outward application taking into consideration the major health system building blocks at various levels in order to ensure a more complete assessment of a governance issue rather than a simple input-output approach. Based on an assessment of contemporary literature we propose a practical approach which we believe will facilitate a more comprehensive assessment of governance in health systems leading to the development of governance interventions to strengthen system performance and improve health as a basic human right.
doi:10.1186/1472-698X-11-13
PMCID: PMC3247022  PMID: 22136318
12.  Global health research, partnership, and equity: no more business-as-usual 
doi:10.1186/1472-698X-11-S2-S1
PMCID: PMC3247829  PMID: 22166045
13.  Partnership research on nutrition transition and chronic diseases in West Africa – trends, outcomes and impacts 
Background
Nutrition-related chronic diseases (NRCD) are rising quickly in developing countries, and the nutrition transition is a major contributor. Low-income countries have not been spared. Health issues related to nutritional deficiencies also persist, creating a double burden of malnutrition (DBM). There is still a major shortage of data on NRCD and DBM in Sub-Saharan Africa. A research program has been designed and conducted in partnership with West African institutions since 2003 to determine how the nutrition transition relates to NRCD and the DBM in order to support prevention efforts.
Methods
In Benin, cross-sectional studies among apparently healthy adults (n=540) from urban, semi-urban and rural areas have examined cardiometabolic risk (hypertension, obesity, dyslipidemia, insulin resistance) in relation to diet and lifestyle, also factoring in socio-economic status (SES). Those studies were followed by a longitudinal study on how risk evolves, opening the way for mutual aid groups to develop a prevention strategy within an action research framework. In Burkina Faso, a cross-sectional study on the nutritional status and dietary patterns of urban school-age children (n=650) represented the initial stages of an action research project to prevent DBM in schools. A cross-sectional study among adults (n=330) from the capital of Burkina Faso explored the coexistence, within these individuals, of cardiometabolic risk factors and nutritional deficiencies (anemia, vitamin A deficiency, chronic energy deficiency), as they relate to diet, lifestyle and SES.
Results
The studies have shown that the prevalence of NRCD is high among the poor, thereby exacerbating social inequalities. The hypothesis of a positive socio-economic (and rural–urban) gradient was confirmed only for obesity, whereas the prevalence of hypertension, insulin resistance and dyslipidemia did not prove to be higher among affluent city dwellers. Women were particularly affected by abdominal obesity, at 48% compared to 6% of men. Protective factors against the risk of NRCD were physical activity and adequate micronutrient intake. The research also showed that nutritional deficiencies were not restricted to schoolchildren in rural areas because in the capital of Ouagadougou, for example, 40% of schoolchildren were anaemic and 40% were vitamin A deficient. Partnership research has expanded to include advocacy and human resources training.
Conclusion
These initial studies on NRCD in West Africa indicate the relevance and urgency of prevention, even among low-income groups and countries. They show that the fight against NRCD as well as nutritional deficiencies should focus on women. Seeing how researchers from the African partner institutions have connections with decision-making authorities, the research findings could have an impact on prevention policies and programs in communities and schools alike. Greater support must nevertheless be provided to lobbying and advocacy work for an even greater impact. As well, the sustainability of the research program remains a challenge that requires resource mobilization and training for the purpose.
doi:10.1186/1472-698X-11-S2-S10
PMCID: PMC3247830  PMID: 22166095
14.  Evaluating a streamlined clinical tool and educational outreach intervention for health care workers in Malawi: the PALM PLUS case study 
Background
Nearly 3 million people in resource-poor countries receive antiretrovirals for the treatment of HIV/AIDS, yet millions more require treatment. Key barriers to treatment scale up are shortages of trained health care workers, and challenges integrating HIV/AIDS care with primary care.
The research
PALM PLUS (Practical Approach to Lung Health and HIV/AIDS in Malawi) is an intervention designed to simplify and integrate existing Malawian national guidelines into a single, simple, user-friendly guideline for mid-level health care workers. Training utilizes a peer-to-peer educational outreach approach. Research is being undertaken to evaluate this intervention to generate evidence that will guide future decision-making for consideration of roll out in Malawi. The research consists of a cluster randomized trial in 30 public health centres in Zomba District that measures the effect of the intervention on staff satisfaction and retention, quality of patient care, and costs through quantitative, qualitative and health economics methods.
Results and outcomes
In the first phase of qualitative inquiry respondents from intervention sites demonstrated in-depth knowledge of PALM PLUS compared to those from control sites. Participants in intervention sites felt that the PALM PLUS tool empowered them to provide better health services to patients. Interim staff retention data shows that there were, on average, 3 to 4 staff departing from the control and intervention sites per month. Additional qualitative, quantitative and economic analyses are planned.
The partnership
Dignitas International and the Knowledge Translation Unit at the University of Cape Town Lung Institute have led the adaptation and development of the PALM PLUS intervention, using experience gained through the implementation of the South African precursor, PALSA PLUS. The Malawian partners, REACH Trust and the Research Unit at the Ministry of Health, have led the qualitative and economic evaluations. Dignitas and Ministry of Health have facilitated interaction with implementers and policy-makers.
Challenges and successes
This initiative is an example of South-South knowledge translation between South Africa and Malawi, mediated by a Canadian academic-NGO hybrid. Our success in developing and rolling out PALM PLUS in Malawi suggests that it is possible to adapt and implement this intervention for use in other resource-limited settings.
doi:10.1186/1472-698X-11-S2-S11
PMCID: PMC3247831  PMID: 22166125
15.  Comparing antiretroviral treatment outcomes between a prospective community-based and hospital-based cohort of HIV patients in rural Uganda 
Background
Improved availability of antiretroviral therapy in sub-Saharan Africa is intended to benefit all eligible HIV-infected patients; however in reality antiretroviral services are mainly offered in urban hospitals. Poor rural patients have difficulty accessing the drugs, making the provision of antiretroviral therapy inequitable. Initial tests of community-based treatment programs in Uganda suggest that home-based treatment of HIV/AIDS may equal hospital-based treatment; however the literature reveals limited experiences with such programs.
The research
This intervention study aimed to; 1) assess the effectiveness of a rural community-based ART program in a subcounty (Rwimi) of Uganda; and 2) compare treatment outcomes and mortality in a rural community-based antiretroviral therapy program with a well-established hospital-based program. Ethics approvals were obtained in Canada and Uganda.
Results and outcomes
Successful treatment outcomes after two years in both the community and hospital cohorts were high. All-cause mortality was similar in both cohorts. However, community-based patients were more likely to achieve viral suppression and had good adherence to treatment. The community-based program was slightly more cost-effective. Per capita costs in both settings were unsustainable, representing more than Uganda’s Primary Health Care Services current expenditures per person per year for all health services. The unpaid community volunteers showed high participation and low attrition rates for the two years that this program was evaluated.
Challenges and successes
Key successes of this study include the demonstration that antiretroviral therapy can be provided in a rural setting, the creation of a research infrastructure and culture within Kabarole’s health system, and the establishment of a research collaboration capable of enriching the global health graduate program at the University of Alberta. Challenging questions about the long-term feasibility and sustainability of a community-based ARV program in Uganda still remain.
The partnership
This project is a continuation of previous successful collaborations between the School of Public Health of Makerere University, the School of Public Health of University of Alberta, the Kabarole District Administration and the Kabarole Research and Resource Center.
doi:10.1186/1472-698X-11-S2-S12
PMCID: PMC3247832  PMID: 22166168
17.  Reducing inequalities in health and access to health care in a rural Indian community: an India-Canada collaborative action research project 
Background
Inadequate public action in vulnerable communities is a major constraint for the health of poor and marginalized groups in low and middle-income countries (LMICs). The south Indian state of Kerala, known for relatively equitable provision of public resources, is no exception to the marginalization of vulnerable communities. In Kerala, women’s lives are constrained by gender-based inequalities and certain indigenous groups are marginalized such that their health and welfare lag behind other social groups.
The research
The goal of this socially-engaged, action-research initiative was to reduce social inequalities in access to health care in a rural community. Specific objectives were: 1) design and implement a community-based health insurance scheme to reduce financial barriers to health care, 2) strengthen local governance in monitoring and evidence-based decision-making, and 3) develop an evidence base for appropriate health interventions.
Results and outcomes
Health and social inequities have been masked by Kerala’s overall progress. Key findings illustrated large inequalities between different social groups. Particularly disadvantaged are lower-caste women and Paniyas (a marginalized indigenous group), for whom inequalities exist across education, employment status, landholdings, and health. The most vulnerable populations are the least likely to receive state support, which has broader implications for the entire country. A community based health solidarity scheme (SNEHA), under the leadership of local women, was developed and implemented yielding some benefits to health equity in the community—although inclusion of the Paniyas has been a challenge.
The partnership
The Canadian-Indian action research team has worked collaboratively for over a decade. An initial focus on surveys and data analysis has transformed into a focus on socially engaged, participatory action research.
Challenges and successes
Adapting to unanticipated external forces, maintaining a strong team in the rural village, retaining human resources capable of analyzing the data, and encouraging Paniya participation in the health insurance scheme were challenges. Successes were at least partially enabled by the length of the funding (this was a two-phase project over an eight year period).
doi:10.1186/1472-698X-11-S2-S3
PMCID: PMC3247834  PMID: 22165825
18.  Maternal deaths in Pakistan: intersection of gender, caste, and social exclusion 
Background
A key aim of countries with high maternal mortality rates is to increase availability of competent maternal health care during pregnancy and childbirth. Yet, despite significant investment, countries with the highest burdens have not reduced their rates to the expected levels. We argue, taking Pakistan as a case study, that improving physical availability of services is necessary but not sufficient for reducing maternal mortality because gender inequities interact with caste and poverty to socially exclude certain groups of women from health services that are otherwise physically available.
Methods
Using a critical ethnographic approach, two case studies of women who died during childbirth were pieced together from information gathered during the first six months of fieldwork in a village in Northern Punjab, Pakistan.
Findings
Shida did not receive the necessary medical care because her heavily indebted family could not afford it. Zainab, a victim of domestic violence, did not receive any medical care because her martial family could not afford it, nor did they think she deserved it. Both women belonged to lower caste households, which are materially poor households and socially constructed as inferior.
Conclusions
The stories of Shida and Zainab illustrate how a rigidly structured caste hierarchy, the gendered devaluing of females, and the reinforced lack of control that many impoverished women experience conspire to keep women from lifesaving health services that are physically available and should be at their disposal.
doi:10.1186/1472-698X-11-S2-S4
PMCID: PMC3247835  PMID: 22165862
19.  Establishing a community of practice of researchers, practitioners, policy-makers and communities to sustainably manage environmental health risks in Ecuador 
Background
The Sustainably Managing Environmental Health Risk in Ecuador project was launched in 2004 as a partnership linking a large Canadian university with leading Cuban and Mexican institutes to strengthen the capacities of four Ecuadorian universities for leading community-based learning and research in areas as diverse as pesticide poisoning, dengue control, water and sanitation, and disaster preparedness.
Methods
In implementing curriculum and complementary innovations through application of an ecosystem approach to health, our interdisciplinary international team focused on the question: “Can strengthening of institutional capacities to support a community of practice of researchers, practitioners, policy-makers and communities produce positive health outcomes and improved capacities to sustainably translate knowledge?” To assess progress in achieving desired outcomes, we review results associated with the logic framework analysis used to guide the project, focusing on how a community of practice network has strengthened implementation, including follow-up tracking of program trainees and presentation of two specific case studies.
Results
By 2009, train-the-trainer project initiation involved 27 participatory action research Master’s theses in 15 communities where 1200 community learners participated in the implementation of associated interventions. This led to establishment of innovative Ecuadorian-led master’s and doctoral programs, and a Population Health Observatory on Collective Health, Environment and Society for the Andean region based at the Universidad Andina Simon Bolivar. Building on this network, numerous initiatives were begun, such as an internationally funded research project to strengthen dengue control in the coastal community of Machala, and establishment of a local community eco-health centre focusing on determinants of health near Cuenca.
Discussion
Strengthening capabilities for producing and applying knowledge through direct engagement with affected populations and decision-makers provides a fertile basis for consolidating capacities to act on a larger scale. This can facilitate the capturing of benefits from the “top down” (in consolidating institutional commitments) and the “bottom up” (to achieve local results).
Conclusions
Alliances of academic and non-academic partners from the South and North provide a promising orientation for learning together about ways of addressing negative trends of development. Assessing the impacts and sustainability of such processes, however, requires longer term monitoring of results and related challenges.
doi:10.1186/1472-698X-11-S2-S5
PMCID: PMC3247836  PMID: 22165915
20.  An agriculture and health inter-sectorial research process to reduce hazardous pesticide health impacts among smallholder farmers in the Andes 
Background
The use of highly hazardous pesticides by smallholder farmers constitutes a classic trans-sectoral ‘wicked problem’. We share our program of research in potato and vegetable farming communities in the Andean highlands, working with partners from multiple sectors to confront this problem over several projects.
Methods
We engaged in iterative cycles of mixed methods research around particular questions, actions relevant to stakeholders, new proposal formulation and implementation followed by evaluation of impacts. Capacity building occurred among farmers, technical personnel, and students from multiple disciplines. Involvement of research users occurred throughout: women and men farmers, non-governmental development organizations, Ministries of Health and Agriculture, and, in Ecuador, the National Council on Social Participation.
Results
Pesticide poisonings were more widespread than existing passive surveillance systems would suggest. More diversified, moderately developed agricultural systems had lower pesticide use and better child nutrition. Greater understanding among women of crop management options and more equal household gender relations were associated with reduced farm pesticide use and household pesticide exposure. Involvement in more organic agriculture was associated with greater household food security and food sovereignty. Markets for safer produce supported efforts by smallholder farmers to reduce hazardous pesticide use.
Participatory interventions included: promoting greater access to alternative methods and inputs in a store co-sponsored by the municipality; producing less harmful inputs such as compost by women farmers; strengthening farmer organizations around healthier and more sustainable agriculture; marketing safer produce among social sectors; empowering farmers to act as social monitors; and using social monitoring results to inform decision makers. Uptake by policy makers has included: the Ecuadorian Ministry of Health rolling out pesticide poisoning surveillance modeled on our system; the Ecuadorian Association of Municipalities holding a national virtual forum on healthier agriculture; and the Ecuadorian Ministry of Agriculture promulgating restrictions on highly hazardous pesticides in June 2010.
Conclusion
Work with multiple actors is needed to shift agriculture towards greater sustainability and human health, particularly for vulnerable smallholders.
doi:10.1186/1472-698X-11-S2-S6
PMCID: PMC3247837  PMID: 22165981
21.  Strengthening integrated research and capacity development within the Caribbean region 
Background
The Caribbean region, like other developing regions of the world, faces significant challenges in conducting research, especially in the context of limited resource capacities and capabilities. Further, due to its diverse and multiple island states, research capacity is scattered and unevenly spread within the region. The Caribbean EcoHealth Programme (CEHP) is a research program that is structured to improve the capacity and capability of health professionals in the Caribbean region to respond in integrative and innovative ways to on-going and emerging environmental health challenges by means of multi-sectoral interventions.
Methods
Core parts of the CEHP’s mission are to (1) conduct collaborative research in areas that the region has identified as critical; (2) build and strengthening integrated approaches to research; and (3) develop and enhance basic research capacity within the Caribbean region.
Fundamental to the success of the CEHP’s human and resource development mission has been its use of the Atlantis Mobile Laboratory (AML). The AML has allowed the CEHP program to move throughout the Caribbean and be able to respond to calls for specific research and capacity building opportunities.
Results
The CEHP’s five main research projects have generated the following results: (1) the Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) study has evaluated human exposures to POPs, heavy metals, pesticides, and zoonotic infections; (2) the Burden of Illness (BOI) studies have developed protocols for the testing of foodborne microorganisms, strengthen laboratory analytical capabilities, and determined the prevalence and incidence of food-borne illness; (3) the Rainwater Harvesting (RWH) study has evaluated the microbial and chemical quality of rainwater harvesting systems; (4) the Ecotoxicology Water (ETW) studies have provided much needed data on the quality of recreational and drinking water supplies, and (5) the Food Safety Training Program has developed Diploma and M.Sc Agri-Food Safety and Quality Assurance programmes.
Conclusions
The CEHP program provides a successful example of how a collaborative instead of researcher driven research agenda can lead to not only the generation of needed information, but also leave within the region where the research has been carried out the capacity and capabilities to continue to do so independent of outside interventions.
doi:10.1186/1472-698X-11-S2-S7
PMCID: PMC3247838  PMID: 22166013
22.  Collaboration between infection control and occupational health in three continents: a success story with international impact 
Globalization has been accompanied by the rapid spread of infectious diseases, and further strain on working conditions for health workers globally. Post-SARS, Canadian occupational health and infection control researchers got together to study how to better protect health workers, and found that training was indeed perceived as key to a positive safety culture. This led to developing information and communication technology (ICT) tools. The research conducted also showed the need for better workplace inspections, so a workplace audit tool was also developed to supplement worker questionnaires and the ICT. When invited to join Ecuadorean colleagues to promote occupational health and infection control, these tools were collectively adapted and improved, including face-to-face as well as on-line problem-based learning scenarios. The South African government then invited the team to work with local colleagues to improve occupational health and infection control, resulting in an improved web-based health information system to track incidents, exposures, and occupational injury and diseases. As the H1N1 pandemic struck, the online infection control course was adapted and translated into Spanish, as was a novel skill-building learning tool that permits health workers to practice selecting personal protective equipment. This tool was originally developed in collaboration with the countries from the Caribbean region and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO). Research from these experiences led to strengthened focus on building capacity of health and safety committees, and new modules are thus being created, informed by that work.
The products developed have been widely heralded as innovative and interactive, leading to their inclusion into “toolkits” used internationally. The tools used in Canada were substantially improved from the collaborative adaptation process for South and Central America and South Africa. This international collaboration between occupational health and infection control researchers led to the improvement of the research framework and development of tools, guidelines and information systems. Furthermore, the research and knowledge-transfer experience highlighted the value of partnership amongst Northern and Southern researchers in terms of sharing resources, experiences and knowledge.
doi:10.1186/1472-698X-11-S2-S8
PMCID: PMC3247839  PMID: 22166059
23.  Challenges of scaling up and of knowledge transfer in an action research project in Burkina Faso to exempt the worst-off from health care user fees 
Background
Systems to exempt the indigent from user fees have been put in place to prevent the worst-off from being excluded from health care services for lack of funds. Yet the implementation of these mechanisms is as rare as the operational research on this topic. This article analyzes an action research project aimed at finding an appropriate solution to make health care accessible to the indigent in a rural district of Burkina Faso.
Research
This action research project was initiated in 2007 to study the feasibility and effectiveness of a community-based, participative and financially sustainable process for exempting the indigent from user fees. A interdisciplinary team of researchers from Burkina Faso and Canada was mobilized to document this action research project.
Results and knowledge sharing
The action process was very well received. Indigent selection was effective and strengthened local solidarity, but coverage was reduced by the lack of local financial resources. Furthermore, the indigent have many other needs that cannot be addressed by exemption from user fees. Several knowledge transfer strategies were implemented to share research findings with residents and with local and national decision-makers.
Partnership achievements and difficulties
Using a mixed and interdisciplinary research approach was critical to grasping the complexity of this community-based process. The adoption of the process and the partnership with local decision-makers were very effective. Therefore, at the instigation of an NGO, four other districts in Burkina Faso and Niger reproduced this experiment. However, national decision-makers showed no interest in this action and still seem unconcerned about finding solutions that promote access to health care for the indigent.
Lessons learned
The lessons learned with regard to knowledge transfer and partnerships between researchers and associated decision-makers are: i) involve potential users of the research results from the research planning stage; ii) establish an ongoing partnership between researchers and users; iii) ensure that users can participate in certain research activities; iv) use a variety of strategies to disseminate results; and v) involve users in dissemination activities.
doi:10.1186/1472-698X-11-S2-S9
PMCID: PMC3247840  PMID: 22166085
24.  Compulsory drug detention center experiences among a community-based sample of injection drug users in Bangkok, Thailand 
Background
Despite Thailand's official reclassification of drug users as "patients" deserving care and not "criminals," the Thai government has continued to rely heavily on punitive responses to drug use such as "boot camp"-style compulsory "treatment" centers. There is very little research on experiences with compulsory treatment centers among people who use drugs. The work reported here is a first step toward filling that gap.
Methods
We examined experiences of compulsory drug treatment among 252 Thai people who inject drugs (IDU) participating in the Mitsampan Community Research Project in Bangkok. Multivariate logistic regression was used to identify factors independently associated with a history of compulsory treatment experience.
Results
In total, 80 (31.7%) participants reported a history of compulsory treatment. In multivariate analyses, compulsory drug detention experience was positively associated with current spending on drugs per day (adjusted odds ratio [AOR] = 1.86; 95%CI: 1.07 - 3.22) and reporting drug planting by police (AOR = 1.81; 95%CI: 1.04 - 3.15). Among those with compulsory treatment experience, 77 (96.3%) reported injecting in the past week, and no difference in intensity of drug use was observed between those with and without a history of compulsory detention.
Conclusion
These findings raise concerns about the current approach to compulsory drug detention in Thailand. Exposure to compulsory drug detention was associated with police abuse and high rates of relapse into drug use, although additional research is needed to determine the precise impact of exposure to this form of detention on future drug use. More broadly, compulsory "treatment" based on a penal approach is not consistent with scientific evidence on addressing drug addiction and should be phased out in favor of evidence-based interventions.
doi:10.1186/1472-698X-11-12
PMCID: PMC3217860  PMID: 22014093
Compulsory treatment; Thailand; injection drug use
25.  Health-care seeking behaviour among persons with diabetes in Uganda: an interview study 
Background
Healthcare-seeking behaviour in patients with diabetes mellitus (DM) has been investigated to a limited extent, and not in developing countries. Switches between different health sectors may interrupt glycaemic control, affecting health. The aim of the study was to explore healthcare-seeking behaviour, including use of complementary alternative medicine (CAM) and traditional healers, in Ugandans diagnosed with DM. Further, to study whether gender influenced healthcare-seeking behaviour.
Methods
This is a descriptive study with a snowball sample from a community in Uganda. Semi-structured interviews were held with 16 women and 8 men, aged 25-70. Data were analysed by qualitative content analysis.
Results
Healthcare was mainly sought among doctors and nurses in the professional sector because of severe symptoms related to DM and/or glycaemic control. Females more often focused on follow-up of DM and chronic pain in joints, while males described fewer problems. Among those who felt that healthcare had failed, most had turned to traditional healers in the folk sector for prescription of herbs or food supplements, more so in women than men. Males more often turned to private for-profit clinics while females more often used free governmental institutions.
Conclusions
Healthcare was mainly sought from nurses and physicians in the professional sector and females used more free-of-charge governmental institutions. Perceived failure in health care to manage DM or related complications led many, particularly women, to seek alternative treatment from CAM practitioners in the folk sector. Living conditions, including healthcare organisation and gender, seemed to influence healthcare seeking, but further studies are needed.
doi:10.1186/1472-698X-11-11
PMCID: PMC3213135  PMID: 21943099
Healthcare-seeking behaviour; Diabetes Mellitus; Complementary Alternative Medicine; Uganda

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