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Prevention: Strengthening communities and society for collective action

26 May 2021

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The COVID-19 pandemic has amplified existing inequalities, with factors such as uncertainty, insecurity of income, and lack of social supports acting as multipliers with consequences for health and non-communicable disease (NCD) management. Consequently, this is a critical moment for planning effective disease prevention and health promotion interventions, with the goal of preventing NCDs, preventing disease, and preventing occurrences of multi-morbidities.

With this in mind, the NIHR Applied Research Collaboration East of England (ARC EoE), the Centre for Science and Policy (CSaP) and the Population Health Research Hub East of England (PHResH EoE) co-hosted a workshop and accompanying webinar in March 2021 which sought to inform the future of the prevention of poor health by exploring the challenges from a community assets perspective.

Throughout the workshop and accompanying webinar, those seeking to address the challenge of preventing poor health made a case for closer collaboration between communities, community services, the welfare system, and parts of the health system. Workshop participants also expressed an interest in identifying areas of success and failure in ongoing population health interventions; finding ways to make greater use of available, effective interventions; finding ways to take a holistic partnership and working systems approach; and how we can identify and tailor interventions for use at regional, local, or hyper-local levels. Ultimately, participants in this workshop aimed to contribute to the development of resilient infrastructure and strategic plans which can enable communities to flourish in terms of health and wellbeing.

Key findings from the workshop focused on the need to reposition health as an asset in communities, while developing and investing in holistic approaches to health which can be integrated into every aspect of people’s lives; and on championing meaningful engagement with communities through coproduction of research and sharing responsibilities with communities in programmatic delivery. Participants also explored how to address and overcome challenges in community engagement, and how to measure the success of community-oriented public health initiatives.

Community engagement has increased throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, and participants in this workshop emphasised that the relationships and trust built during this time could be used as a starting point for future health promotion programs. The ongoing situation has demonstrated the challenge of building and maintaining participation, particularly within communities which proved harder to engage in previous healthcare programmes. However, the immense value of community groups and the expanding role of community champions have rightly gained much positive attention. As public health professionals go forward in deepening their community engagement work, workshop participants emphasised the importance of understanding the different kinds of community experience at a local level, seeking opportunities to build trust, exploring ideas of intersectionality, and working to strengthen communities while generating resilience at population level.

You can learn more about the findings of this workshop – including findings from case study discussions on cancer screening and dietary inequalities – by reading the workshop report here. You can also refer to the findings from an earlier companion workshop on health promotion and disease prevention in local communities here.

Kate McNeil

Partnership for Conflict, Crime & Security Research