It is essential to involve healers and other community members in the planning and implementation of the programme. Getting their views and suggestions regarding the health priorities of the community, what they would like to learn, how to recruit and select trainees, and the kind of support they will need after training, will help to make the programme a success.
It is particularly important to ask healers what they want to learn so their needs can be incorporated into the training content and to ask community leaders to participate in the selection of healers to be trained. Without this involvement there is a high risk that highly respected and dedicated healers will not be chosen and that those chosen may not be committed to the project. The more the community members and THPs are involved in the early stages of planning, the greater will be the commitment of healers and community members to the programme.
There are many different kinds of persons with leadership potential in each community. People who can contribute ideas and assistance might include:
• designated or official community leaders
• religious leaders
• extension workers
• club, group, or cooperative leaders
• women's leaders
• children's and young people's leaders
• health, school or other committees
• opinion leaders among the poor or rich
When working with community members, it is often useful to arrange a meeting between community leaders and traditional practitioners. The group can then jointly identify areas or activities in which the THP can help and decide together which areas are most important to the community. Community leaders can also provide information about the level of support the community is willing and able to provide to the THP.
Local health agency staff members can also meet with THPs to help identify potential resources and places to refer patients, if needed. Health agency staff members should be made aware of the valuable roles THPs can play as health educators and health promoters and to get word out to the community about issues such as immunization, family planning, and improving water and sanitation.
Collaboration with health workers, other THPs, and community leaders is one way to improve health care in the community. Collaboration means pooling resources (health staff and health services) where both modern health staff and THPs work together toward a common goal. Each can refer patients to the care-giver who is best qualified to provide a specific health service.
A mutual referral system can promote good collaboration and benefit the THP, the supporting health agency, and the community. Such a system encourages the THP to make referrals to a health centre for problems he/she cannot manage, while the health centre staff refers patients back to the THP for follow-up, after giving necessary advice and treatment. In this way, THPs and health agency staff can be shown how to work together for the good of the patient and the community rather than competing with one another.