FIRST CARE LEVEL

Health volunteers bring about change in Turkana

They give talks on nutrition, growing home gardens, hygiene, breastfeeding and vaccination

In Summary

• Some traditional beliefs discourage breastfeeding, clinic visits and vaccinations. CHVs need patience, persistence to change attitudes.

• In some cases, especially in far-flung areas, they are the few available health service providers.

A Community Health Volunteer uses a mid upper-arm circumference measuring tape on a child, indicating severe acute malnutrition.
MALNUTRITION: A Community Health Volunteer uses a mid upper-arm circumference measuring tape on a child, indicating severe acute malnutrition.
Image: UNICEF:

At the heart of Katilu village, Turkana South, Phoebe Nelima works as a community health volunteer.

She said finding her calling in this field is one of the greatest things to have happened to her.

It gives her great satisfaction to interact with the community and ensure pregnant mothers deliver safely.

The mother of four says her tasks include giving health talks on nutrition, home gardens, hygiene and breastfeeding and others topics

Nelima can visit as many as five households in a day. She   discusses health issues and checks if people have problems.

On other days, she creates time to check on children's vaccinations. If there are missed vaccinations, she follows up.

The CHV walks long distances from one village to another, however, PanAfricare has made her work easier by giving hear a bicycle. The organisation promotes good nutrition.

“If technologies that are water-efficient, such as cone gardens, can be brought to every homestead, every home would have access to nutritious vegetables every day,” Nelima said.

In Namakat village, Esther Ajikon has earned a new name, 'daktari',  for championing health.

Apart from twice-a-week home visits, Ajikon mobilises women in her community. She trains them in Water Sanitation and Hygiene (Wash). She also teaches women how to set up and manage kitchen gardens.

“Some traditional beliefs discourage breastfeeding, clinic visits and vaccination. My work is to ensure more mothers are willing to breastfeed and visit the clinic every month,” she said.

Changing beliefs requires patience and persistence. “Initially, some people never wanted to hear from me but after several visits, they became interested in what I was saying,” the CHV said.

Ajikon said improving the health of her community begins with improving feeding habits and changing norms.

Community Health Volunteers continue to play critical roles in providing Level 1 health services. In some cases, especially in far-flung areas, they are the few available health service providers.

PanAfricare Impact Programme funded by Bayer Fund works closely with CHVs to reduce malnutrition.

Trained health volunteers make regular home visits promoting behaviour change.

They measure mid-upper arm circumference to determine degrees of malnutrition.

They refer acute cases of malnutrition to health centres and deliver key health messages.

(Edited by V. Graham)

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