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Community health workers key to solving community-wide epidemics

BY Taylor Capizola • July 09, 2018

By Edwine Omondi Ouma & Taylor Capizola

Penina Kerubo, a Living Goods community health worker (CHW), usually spent her days going door-to-door in Mokumbo, Kenya, educating and treating mothers, families, and children. While she mainly focused on treating individual cases of malaria, pneumonia, and diarrhea, she never expected she’d have to save her entire community. But when an unexpected, widespread diarrhea outbreak occurred in her village, she was ready to save lives.

Though both preventable and treatable, diarrhea remains the second leading cause of death in children under five years of age, with 1.7 billion cases of pediatric diarrhea every year around the world. Over 780 million people around the world lack access to clean drinking water, leaving millions at risk of contracting a diarrheal disease. Living Goods moved to stock our CHWs with oral rehydration solution and zinc as well as with knowledge in treating and preventing diarrheal diseases. This education, coupled with the expertise and quick-thinking of our CHWs, became critical in solving this complex and widespread outbreak.

In Mokumbo, the source of the outbreak was in a neighboring spring, Getacho Springs, whose water was used for drinking before being treated by surrounding homesteads with latrines dug nearby. Penina quickly noticed many people fell ill after attending a funeral where the untreated water was used. Penina alerted the public officials in Mokumbo, including Douglas Mogiri, the current Deputy Public Health Officer who oversees Mokumbo. In an interview, Mogiri said, “CHWs are very instrumental and in the case of the outbreak, they were the first to detect the situation and engaged us immediately.” Penina and the local Community Unit Leader jumped into action, ensuring residents were admitted to health facilities to get detailed assessment and care. After discovering the source of the outbreak, Penina and the Community Unit Leader advised community members to use Riamesesi Springs—another spring with better sanitation—for drinking, while Getacho Springs was only to be used for laundering. After successfully ending the outbreak, Penina continued her critical assistance to her community.

Following the outbreak, branch staff, community health extension workers, and the public administration organized community events where they provided educational discussions on preventative measures to take in case of a diarrheal outbreak. They also used the discussions to teach residents about homemade sanitation methods, including boiling water, chlorine-treated water, and Cera Maii water—an earth-made sieve used for purification.

“The CHW is the heartbeat of community health, for they know and understand the village well because of our partner, Living Goods, who trained our CHWs and is keen on performance and supporting them during field visits,” said Mogiri.  

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