The Community Working Group on Health is a network of civic / community based organization that was formed in early 1998 to take up health issues of common concern. There are approximately thirty-five (35) organizations in the CWGH include national membership organizations that have branches across the country, while others have areas specific membership (such as the residents associations).
The Executive committee of the CWGH comprises seven civic groups: Zimbabwe Diabetic Association, the Students and Youths Working on Reproductive Health Action Team (SAYWHAT), Zimbabwe Homeless People’s Federation (ZHPF), Women’s AIDS Support Network (WASN), Bulawayo United Resident Association (BURA), Zhombe AIDS Aid Organisation, Zimbabwe Diabetic Association (ZDA), and the Carelight Counselors. The CWGH has local committees made of civic organizations at local level, set up in the process of the Civic Education Programme on Health.
The conception of the CWGH followed a landmark six-week strike action in 1997 by health professionals against low salaries, poor working conditions and a decline in the quality of health services. The founders of the CWGH felt that the strike was legitimate but insufficient to redress the overall deterioration of Zimbabwe’s public health delivery system. Raised salaries and improved working conditions could well benefit doctors and nurses, prompting them to resume their duties and probably save some lives, but could not, for instance, make health fees affordable to the poor, avail drugs and facilities in public health centers, increase poor rural people’s access to health service or result in more serious efforts to fight HIV and AIDS.
The founders of the CWGH generally felt that these public health concerns remained at the periphery because there was no institution to represent the interests the most affected parties – ordinary people.
Doctors and nurses easily organized themselves for a strike that could benefit them because they had a union, but communities did not. It is in this background that national civic groups and other stakeholders attending a health system review meeting on Zimbabwe in 1997 resolved to conceive a body that would strengthen community voices and help coordinate their actions on health and this saw the birth of the CWGH in 1998.