In late July, more than 45 STREAM community engagement (CE) participants attended the 7th STREAM All-CAB webinar to explore how they can improve TB programs and policies through advocacy. STREAM Community Advisory Boards (CABs) joined REDE-TB, SMIT, and Vital Strategies to discuss effective ways to influence decision-making about health, and reviewed advocacy case studies and best practices from Moldova and Uganda.

Led by the STREAM Community Engagement Officer in Moldova, Dr. Svetlana Doltu, webinar attendees focused on strategies and skills to build partnerships with decision-makers and to advocate for change. Svetlana emphasized that the STREAM experience has provided CAB members with important advocacy tools (for example, better understanding of research protocols and new treatment regimens) that are useful for influencing national and international TB guidelines.

Webinar presentation slide showcasing how CABs can influence policy through advocacy

Dr. Doltu also gave practical advice to CAB members, emphasizing that they will be most effective as advocates if they remain informed on current TB recommendations and issues, understand the local policy-making process, actively participate in advocacy efforts, and are ready to offer solutions to identified issues. She also encouraged CAB members to advocate for participation in all steps of the research process, for transparency in research, and elimination of regulatory barriers in order to close the gap between researchers and the community.

CABs are uniquely positioned to contribute to new policies, given their diverse and important institutional affiliations that allow them to connect different stakeholders and build broad-based trust, confidence and partnerships.  Doltu remarked:

As CAB members, we have the unique capacity to reach out to stakeholders and advocate for the necessary changes needed to improve the lives of those undergoing TB treatment… We have experience in community-based targeting and research, useful for creating TB guidelines and comprehensive care.

However, participants agreed that – to really influence policies and programs – it is critical for decision-makers to view CABs as “ready and able” to meaningfully participate in the process The session concluded that policy change can greatly improve quality of life for people affected by TB, and community engagement in the research and policy-making process is necessary to achieve these gains.

Dr. Ivan Kimuli, a STREAM Community Liaison Officer, then shared the Ugandan experience. He remarked that communities have been empowered by the STREAM CAB to participate in civil actions and increase public awareness by disseminating information on TB. Kimuli stated, “we need partnerships and cannot stand alone. Building a strong partnership with everyone who stands for TB change like NGOs, civil society organizations, individuals in positions of power, can help us achieve great influence over policy.” He explained that Ugandan traditions, which are deeply rooted in cultural and religious values, require advocates to create coalitions with well-regarded community leaders in order to effectively advocate for policy change.

The next All CAB webinar will take place in November. To read more about community engagement and the STREAM CABs, please click here.