Reaching Out Together
Multi Sectoral Task Force (MSTF) and Community Based Support System (CBSS) are two grass root social networks in the country propounded under the aegis of Her Majesty Gyalyum Sangay Choden Wangchuck. MSTF was formally introduced in all 20 districts by 2001 under Ministry of Health supervision to prevent, raise awareness and carry out advocacy programs on HIV/AIDS and STIs throughout the country. Over the years, MSTF has expanded their services to other communicable and non-communicable disease such as TB, Malaria, Avain Influenza, teenage pregnancy, unsafe abortion, cervical cancer, diabetes, hypertension and other mental health issues. In creating MSTF, Ministry of Health sought to integrate health system and health care programs with other governmental mandates.
RENEW on the other hand founded CBSS network in all 20 dzongkahgs in 2005 to curb the increasing numbers of incidences of violence and abuse against women and girls in the country. CBSS volunteers engages enthusiastic community members to join hands with RENEW in raising awareness to reduce and prevent occurrences of Domestic and Gender Based Violence (DV/GBV) and Violence against Women (VAW) in their communities. CBSS acts as an immediate interface between communities and RENEW providing long term sustainable approach to curb VAW.
With more than a decade of MSTF and CBSS members conducting programs and activities in communities separately, Ministry of Health and RENEW concluded that it was time for the two networks to come together. On the wake of limited budgetary opportunities, dwindling resources and scarce capacity, the two parent organisations felt that there were several areas where the two networks could come together, thus saving resources and effort. Since MSTF and CBSS both worked closely in communities, many of their activities could be clubbed together to increase impact quotients. Several brainstorming sessions held in this regard lead to a need for a joint national level meeting of the two networks.
Thus, MSTF CBSS Partnership Meeting “Reaching out Together” was conceived to bring together the two Dzongkhag level networks to brainstorm, discuss and agree on a common collaborative work plan. HIV/AIDS not only remains an important public health priority, but also a major social issue. By expanding public health programs which for now has been covering only aspects of reproductive health issues, alcohol, substance abuse and pandemic outbreak to include direct social issues like DV and GBV will assist communities build better comprehensive consciousness. The understanding would also encourage a viable sustainability of both the networks.
With this in mind, from 9-11 June 2014, MSTF member secretaries and CBSS district coordinators from 19 districts gathered to attend a three day extensive meeting in Thimphu organized jointly by Ministry of Health and RENEW. Unfortunately, participants from Gasa were unable to attend the meeting due to road block. The target of the meeting was to i) Have in place better communication and coordination mechanism and ii) Make prudent and maximize the use of limited resources.
The inaugural session was graced by H.E. Lyonpo Damchoe Dorji, Minister for Home and Cultural Affairs on 9 June 2014 morning. To the participants seated, Lyonpo said “The meeting gives us an opportunity to rethink and rededicate efforts to mitigate the epidemic of HIV/AIDS and other social evils”. Thereafter an intensive 3 day session began with a lot of interactions, free way discussions and learning by way of sharing experiences.
All in all, the meeting had three broad group exercises where participants exchanged healthy dialogue among themselves. Challenges, issues, best practices and recommendations were shared and the forum openly discussed solutions to address them. As the days progressed, more suggestions and recommendations for collaboration among the two networks surfaced. Finally on the third day, participants in district wise drafted joint action plans with proper strategy which included timeframe, budgeting and monitoring & evaluation. Due to clear and transparent understanding developed within participants in the first two days of the meeting, drafting individual action plans seamlessly took form on the third day. A conclusion was arrived that district level resources and capacity should be shared; observing global days and events would be done jointly; sensitization/awareness/educational campaign will be done jointly and henceforth both networks would collaborate on joint outreach programs.
Most of issues participants brought forth were common to all districts. Many expressed lack of proper strategy in place to monitor evaluation and impact. This could be solved to an extent by centralizing the authority to district administrator, in this case the Dzongdas. Another issue was of unclear roles and responsibilities of the members. The composition of the members of MSTF at Dzongkhag level includes civil servants of the respective Dzongkhags. Whereas in the case of CBSS, it is purely on voluntary basis, thus the composition is diverse. To solve this problem, an MSTF organogram was deliberated at length. To foster long term sustainability of the networks, it was proposed that concrete district action plans would be presented to the Commission of Secretaries for support and endorsement. By doing so, MSTF CBSS action plans can be embedded as part of district Five year plans, which is yearly monitored and evaluated. Many such issues brought forward were sorted out through communication and sharing responsibility.
Having fully achieved its objectives to bring the two networks together by sorting out differences a Way Forward report was compiled out of the three day proceedings. The Way Forward captures in essence all the communication, issues, grievances, exchanges and discussions transpired during the meeting. All participants endorsed the Way Forward and many looked forward for easier work flow in their districts. During the closing ceremony graced by Her Majesty Gyalyum Sangay Choden Wangchuck, who is the patron for both networks launched the Way Forward, hence marking the propitious beginning of a new partnership. A summary presentation of the meeting was also presented by Dr. Dorji Wangchuk, Director General, Dept of Public Health, Ministry of Health to Her Majesty and other dignitaries present.
With this, the three day partnership meeting concluded on a high note. Not only did the participants formulate joint action plans, rather these action plans will go towards enhancing community outreach activities by supplementing district annual plans. All action plans looks promising and the implementers have been rejuvenated to do more for their districts, this time however together.