Social accountability in primary health care in West and Central Africa: Exploring the role of health facility committees

Elsbet Lodenstein*, Eric Mafuta, Adolphe C. Kpatchavi, Jean Servais, Marjolein Dieleman, Jacqueline E.W. Broerse, Alpha Amadou Bano Barry, Thérèse M.N. Mambu, Jurrien Toonen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

46 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Social accountability has been emphasised as an important strategy to increase the quality, equity, and responsiveness of health services. In many countries, health facility committees (HFCs) provide the accountability interface between health providers and citizens or users of health services. This article explores the social accountability practices facilitated by HFCs in Benin, Guinea and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Methods: The paper is based on a cross-case comparison of 11 HFCs across the three countries. The HFCs were purposefully selected based on the (past) presence of community participation support programs. The cases were derived from qualitative research involving document analysis as well as interviews and focus group discussions with health workers, citizens, committee members, and local authorities. Results: Most HFCs facilitate social accountability by engaging with health providers in person or through meetings to discuss service failures, leading to changes in the quality of services, such as improved health worker presence, the availability of night shifts, the display of drug prices and replacement of poorly functioning health workers. Social accountability practices are however often individualised and not systematic, and their success depends on HFC leadership and synergy with other community structures. The absence of remuneration for HFC members does not seem to affect HFC engagement in social accountability. Conclusions: Most HFCs in this study offer a social accountability forum, but the informal and non-systematic character and limited community consultation leave opportunities for the exclusion of voices of marginalised groups. More inclusive, coherent and authoritative social accountability practices can be developed by making explicit the mandate of HFC in the planning, monitoring, and supervision of health services; providing instruments for organising local accountability processes; strengthening opportunities for community input and feedback; and strengthening links to formal administrative accountability mechanisms in the health system.

Original languageEnglish
Article number403
JournalBMC Health Services Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 13 Jun 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Accountability
  • Community participation
  • Health facility committee
  • Primary health care
  • Social accountability


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