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How Community Health Volunteers are helping bridge healthcare gaps in Kenya

Monica Anyango, a Community Health Volunteer. Photo: Elphas Ngugi for Action Against Hunger, Kenya.

Monica Anyango is a Community Health Volunteer in Busia County, Kenya, several hundred kilometres from Nairobi. For residents of rural areas, accessing healthcare services and reliable health information can be a challenge, and Community Health Volunteers (CHVs) like Monica play a vital role. She helps bridge the gap between the healthcare system and community health needs to keep families healthy and ensure that women receive proper care throughout their pregnancies.

Today, Monica is visiting Silvia Akuku Okesa, a mother of five in the small village of Ihula. She regularly visits the 65 households on her client list to share guidance on health and nutrition with pregnant women and caregivers. Together, they discuss topics like the benefits of breastfeeding, the importance of a varied diet, and how to keep families safe from COVID-19. Community Health Volunteers are also trained to identify malnutrition and refer patients to health services when needed.


Community Health Volunteer Monica Anyango visits a client, Silvia Okesa, at her home in Busia County. Photo: Elphas Ngugi for Action Against Hunger, Kenya.

Monica’s contributions are held in high regard by the communities she serves. “Before there was no doctor coming to my homestead, but when I was pregnant Monica visited many times and did a check-up on me and the foetus,” says Silvia. “She taught me how to touch and connect with my baby while in the womb, and that gave the foetus an awareness of what is happening in the world. No wonder my baby is so smart!”

Monica received training through the Systems Enhancement for Transformative Health (SETH) project, funded by Global Affairs Canada and implemented by Action Against Hunger in collaboration with Helen Keller International. The project aims to reduce maternal and child mortality in target communities in Kenya and Guatemala by strengthening local health systems and improving the quality of maternal, newborn and child health and nutrition services.

Through her training, Monica has begun working more closely with healthcare workers in the area. One important aspect of her work is to inform expectant mothers about the steps to a healthy pregnancy and familiarize them with locally available healthcare services. This community-driven approach helps address myths and misconceptions that may deter expectant mothers from visiting health facilities and encourage women to give birth under the care of skilled healthcare professionals, thus reducing maternal and neonatal death rates.

“In villages where caregivers are not regularly visited by Community Health Volunteers, they lack information on maternal health and the services offered in the hospitals. They lack a clear path to follow,” she says.


Silvia with her daughter. Photo: Elphas Ngugi for Action Against Hunger, Kenya.

The training Monica received has improved the quality of care that she provides. “The SETH project helped me realize that I need to attend to a pregnant mother up until the end, know their schedules, and continuously work with them on their birth plans,” she says.

In addition to sharing vital information with their clients, community health volunteers are helping strengthen the health system by collecting data for local health authorities so they have a clearer picture of the health and nutrition situation in the villages. “The community health volunteers bring their reports to the health facility they are attached to. We use these reports to understand our situation on the ground,” says Dr. Sinclair Omboga in Trans Nzoia County, where SETH project activities have also been implemented. “It has helped us to enrich our documents so that our work plans, strategic plan, and county nutrition action plans are much richer.”

In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, the work of Community Health Volunteers has taken on a new importance. “My work as a Community Volunteer is providing health education services in the villages,” says Geoffrey Wafule, a volunteer in neighbouring Bungoma County. [Action Against Hunger] educated us on matters related to COVID-19. After the training, I went to the households I serve to share what I had learned. And true to it, they have really benefited, they have adhered to the guidelines. I am grateful for this. I have heard about COVID in other areas, but we remain safe because of the training we were given.”

 


Community Health Volunteers receive training through the Systems Enhancement for Transformative Health (SETH) project, implemented by Action Against Hunger and Helen Keller International with the financial support of Global Affairs Canada. This project focuses on maternal, newborn and child health and nutrition.

 


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