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health asset mapping teresa cutts

What’s Africa Got to do with It?

By Teresa Cutts

Memphis, Chicago, Atlanta, Buffalo and North Carolina are not normally considered part of Africa—except perhaps in the study and application of the work of religious health assets. Community Health Assets Mapping Partnership, or CHAMP, is a working group built on the U.S. field sites for the African/International Religious Health Assets Mapping Programme, or ARHAP/IRHAP.

From that vantage point, it’s easy to see shared theory and blended intelligence in service of advancing a community’s health. IRHAP is developing a systematic knowledge base of community and religious and health assets to align and enhance the work of religious health leaders, public policy decision-makers and other health workers who collaborate on the challenges of disease such as HIV/AIDS and promote sustainable health, especially for those in poverty or marginal conditions. CHAMP—the version that migrated to Memphis and other U.S. areas—focuses on helping health systems better integrate with communities and meet the needs of vulnerable populations.

ARHAP began in 2002 out of work of Jim Cochrane and Steve DeGruchy in Africa, and Gary Gunderson and Deb McFarland of Emory University. They were joined by an ever-growing group of academicians, practitioners and researchers. ARHAP’s name was changed to IRHAP to in 2011 to reflect globally recognized research collaborations working on the interface of religion and public health. It continues with a lean administrative core under the University of Capetown’s Jill Olivier, and has produced research under the auspices of WHO, UNAIDS and the Gates Foundation, Salvation Army, the Joint Learning Initiative, as well as smaller projects. For more information, see the IRHAP website.

CHAMP was recognized as a pivotal ARHAP-trained U.S.-based branch in 2007. Since then its leaders have conducted over 20 “Participatory Inquiry into Religious Health Assets, Networks and Agency” (PIRHANA) type workshops in five under-served areas of Memphis, Chicago, Buffalo and two sites in North Carolina. CHAMP’s mapping technique rests on ARHAP’s early PIRHANA foundation, but has been adapted to different social/political contexts, including peace promotion and violence prevention, mapping systems of care, mental health and elder care specialties. In Memphis, we were aligned with a large, faith-based hospital system, Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare under the Center of Excellence in Faith and Health and worked closely with our local academic partners in the Dept. of Anthropology and Sociology at the University of Memphis. The work in Buffalo involved a specialty focus on diabetes self-management with a local AHEC. Chicago mappers aim to work toward peace and safety and violence prevention. In North Carolina, the work is located in the Wake Forest’s FaithHealth Innovations and is meeting needs in more rural areas, tightly aligned with local CHNA efforts.

Most important, CHAMP and IRHAP practitioners seek to nurture and continue to build “partnerships” that are sustainable over time on any given landscape and with her people. However, CHAMP’s work continues to be vetted by and driven by IRHAP principles and researchers, honoring that African DNA.

The biggest question we hear is “Why bother learning and using this methodology? I know how to do asset mapping.” And, in part that is true: none of the exercises in the PIRHANA and CHAMP hybrids are unique: it’s just the logic and theory that undergirds the work that makes it potent and useful for health systems strengthening. In a nutshell, here’s what differentiates this version of asset mapping from others:

  • Africa DNA is key, in that Africans know and live into “smart trust” which refers to how people who live, work and worship on the map validate that map
  • Dual lens of seekers and providers, with a unique focus on healthseekers’ “Healthworlds”
  • Makes visible both tangible and intangible assets
  • Builds on the theories of asset-based community development, appreciative inquiry, dialogical action, participatory rural appraisal and liberation theology.
  • Grounded theory and research undergirds the practice
  • Not designed to be used instrumentally
  • Focused on making grassroots assets visible to both participants and policy makers
  • Super springboard for leadership engagement
  • Helps build and nurture grassroots trust in local hospital systems and build true community partnerships based on mutual accountability
  • Has been shown to help build and strengthen community and health system assets in a way that improves health outcomes (for example, the Memphis Model)

CHAMP and IRHAP’s mission is to serve those responsible for guiding the many types of community and religious health assets in any area seeking to improve the health of the public. We advance them toward alignment with a special focus on improving access to healthcare, eliminating disparities, achieving equity and improving the health status of all—essentially the Beloved Community of Dr. Martin Luther King and others. We understand that the first task of leadership is to know both with what they have to work and with whom to work. And that is why we continue to honor the African DNA of our version of asset mapping, which serves that purpose very well.

Teresa Cutts is on the faculty of Wake Forest School of Medicine.