PRESENTATION OF ACI’S HEALTH AND SOCIAL JUSTICE DEPARTMENT
Since 1983 when ACI’s programs and activities in the sub-region began, ACI’s Health Department has gained experience and developed recognized expertise in capacity building and promoting grass roots actors in community organizations and in the area of advocacy and policy dialogue on major public health issues (response to HIV/AIDS, adolescent reproductive health, family planning…)
Over the years ACI has initiated three flagship programs:
- a capacity building program for NGO’s, CBO’s and networks (strengthening community systems) with an accent on associations of PLWHIV and other organizations of key populations ;
- a policy dialogue and advocacy program targeting religious leaders (Moselm and Christian), media (managers and editors, journalists, regulatory and self-regulatory agencies, schools for training in journalism and communications, community radios), political leaders (members of parliament, mayors), local authorities, private sector leaders, artists (actors, musicians…), community leaders, the judiciary, and human rights organizations ;
- a program to strengthen systems (technical assistance to the CNLS and Government Ministries, mainstreaming HIV in the education sector and in humanitarian organizations, strengthening the skills of regional coordinating bodies, strengthening the continuum of care…)
ACI, through its Health Department, has positioned itself over the years as an NGO that generates added value. It has built its legitimacy and credibility with its strategic and operational partners upon commitment, the skills of its team and its capacity to adapt and respond most effectively to the needs of the structures and individuals it assists.
Transformation in progress…
With the quest for social justice at the heart of its mission, ACI has made major changes that began in 2005 with critical thinking on the place of social justice in its interventions, and ended in 2010 with changing the name of the Health Department to the “Department of Health and Social Justice”
In line with this change in position, ACI developed some major, new activities:
- design a course in social justice and conflict transformation in Francophone Africa in partnership with the Karuna Center for Peacebuilding, The School for International Training and World Education ;
- develop and distribute an inventory of francophone resources in social justice and conflict transformation ;
- launch a program called « Këru jàmm, goxu jàmm » (Peaceful home, peaceful neighborhood), in response to the problem of chronic flooding, and in order to contribute to developing responses to the challenges posed by global warming in the periphery of Dakar ;
The missions of the department have evolved and improved, and we have widened and diversified our principal program areas and types of activities. Certain aspects of the evolution of worldwide understanding of the concept of “health” have been integrated:
- health is the result of the interaction between a person and his environment and is a privilege linked to social conditions; health is not simply the absence of illness ;
- since illness can affect an individual’s level of access to other resources, it becomes a condition for social justice ;
- social justice and peaceful coexistence are fundamental conditions for community health.
ACI has committed to promoting better health for disadvantaged populations (poor people or those in precarious situations, women and young people in particular) and socially excluded groups (people living with HIV, men who have sex with men, professional sex workers, people deprived of freedom or incarcerated, drug users, the handicapped, and other people who suffer stigma and discrimination…) Issues of precariousness and urban poverty and their multiple consequences for health (difficult access to information and health care services, hygiene-related illnesses due to lack of access to potable water and sanitation, food security and nutrition, increases in the cost of medical services, non-observance of prescribed treatment…) will be increasingly taken into consideration, particularly in the context of climate change. In addition to their devalued social status, the inhabitants of poor neighborhoods most often find themselves deprived of access to the judiciary and to participation as citizens in the decisions that affect their living conditions. We will, therefore, favor a human rights approach.
Social justice therefore becomes a cross-cutting issue, underlying all of the department’s activities.
Affirming a new position …
The vision of the Department of Health and Social Justice for the coming years is one of «a sub regional structure that strengthens the commitment and the ability of communities to become actors in ensuring their own health and in advocating for accessible quality services as well as policies that guarantee social justice and equity.”
ACI’s Health and Social Justice Department is already involved or plans to apply its experience and expertise to developing activities and programs on three levels :
- responses to emerging or re-emerging epidemics (HIV infection, sexually transmitted infections, tuberculosis, malaria…) by strengthening the ability of community actors to respond, with a particular focus on socially vulnerable populations;
- worldwide health issues and advances in approaches to health: adolescent reproductive health with greater attention to comprehensive sex education, repositioning family planning, maternal and child health, community and urban health, by strengthening local populations to become the locomotives for improving their own health;
- determinants of health, with particular emphasis on peace building and transforming conflicts, promoting the defense of human rights and human dignity, the fight against gender-based violence, access to education, responses to the consequences of climate change, food and nutrition as well as the fight against poverty
The Department is committed to helping to advance the cause of social justice through actions that respond to social inequalities of health and contribute first to community development and their empowerment as agents for the improvement of their own health, to social participation and finally to local action targeting people in vulnerable situations.