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World’s First International Community Health Conference Held in Kigali

KIGALI, RWANDA 4 February, 2011 - Over 350 delegates from 15 countries converged in Kigali last week to call the world’s attention to the rapid expansion and scope of community health in strengthening health systems and achieving the MDGs.

“This conference was ground-breaking in terms of the debate and consensus it generated on how community health systems need to be strengthened”, said Dr. Joseph Foumbi, UNICEF’s Representative to Rwanda. “If all participants present are able to go back to their governments and strengthen their community health systems, the impact on child survival and indeed achieving MDG4 and 5 could be substantial”, he added

No previous international conference has brought together such a wide array of evidence on the effectiveness and challenges of Community Health Workers (CHWs) working in rural villages and poor urban neighborhoods.

This conference, which spanned four days, and was organized by the Rwandan Ministry of Health, with support from a variety of international partners, including UNICEF, also included case studies and research outlining CHWs’ successful involvement in safe motherhood; lowering newborn mortality; providing first line drugs for malaria and tuberculosis; and preventing and managing child malnutrition. There were also presentations on community health supplies and financing, incentives for CHWs and improving linkages to health facilities.

Dr. Paul Farmer and Dr. David Sanders, distinguished leaders and researchers in international health, delivered key note addresses on the role of community health in strengthening health systems.

Rwanda has put in place a vibrant community health system, with its 60,000 CHWs taking on roles ranging from nutrition counselor, family planning educator to pregnancy tracker, amongst others. But if health systems are to function at their optimal level, participants agreed that more efforts are needed to build the capacity of CHWs; to deliver equitable services to beneficiaries; to adopt new technologies, such as cell phones (RapidSMS); to focus on preventive nutrition, and to strengthen partnerships with communities, faith based organizations and other groups.

“Although the conference is over, the work to implement the recommendations has just begun”, explained Dr. Foumbi. “I am very pleased that Rwanda has set up an online Community Health Forum ( to support continued research and information sharing on community health worldwide.”

UNICEF is on the ground in over 150 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence.  The world’s largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS.  UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments. For more information about UNICEF and its work visit:

For further information please contact:

Misbah Sheikh, UNICEF Rwanda, + 250 788300731,
Cyriaque Ngoboka, UNICEF Rwanda, + 250 788305221,



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