Social accountability is defined as the responsibility of institutions to respond to the health priorities of a community. There is an international movement towards the education of health professionals who are accountable to communities. There is little evidence of how communities experience or articulate this accountability.
In this grounded theory study eight community based focus group discussions were conducted in rural and urban South Africa to explore community members’ perceptions of the social accountability of doctors. The discussions were conducted across one urban and two rural provinces. Group discussions were recorded and transcribed verbatim.
Initial coding was done and three main themes emerged following data analysis: the consultation as a place of love and respect (participants have an expectation of care yet are often engaged with disregard); relationships of people and systems (participants reflect on their health priorities and the links with the social determinants of health) and Ubuntu as engagement of the community (reflected in their expectation of Ubuntu based relationships as well as part of the education system). These themes were related through a framework which integrates three levels of relationship:
a central community of reciprocal relationships with the doctor-patient relationship as core;
a level in which the systems of health and education interact and together with social determinants of health mediate the insertion of communities into a broader discourse.
An ubuntu framing in which the tensions between vulnerability and power interact and reflect rights and responsibility. The space between these concepts is important for social accountability.
Social accountability has been a concept better articulated by academics and centralized agencies. Communities bring a richer dimension to social accountability through their understanding of being human and caring. This study also creates the connection between ubuntu and social accountability and their mutual transformative capacity as agents for social justice