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Community health workers lifesaving duty to new mothers

BY Taylor Capizola • July 19, 2018

By Edwine Omondi Ouma and Taylor Capizola

Violet and Milka are two Kenyan mothers who have used nutrition and education to provide a healthy foundation for their infant children, and it is thanks to services provided by Living Goods’ community health workers (CHWs). Dedicated CHWs, like Madam Evelyn Nanjala in Kenya, go door to door to help target what heavily impacts their communities. In Evelyn’s case? It is malnutrition.

Malnutrition, a term the World Food Program defines as “a state in which the physical function of an individual is impaired to the point where he or she can no longer maintain bodily performance and processes such as growth, pregnancy, physical work and resisting and recovering from disease”, is associated with 45 percent of childhood deaths in developing countries. The World Health Organization suggests women and infants, among others, are at particular risk of malnutrition. Optimizing adequate nutrition in the early stages of life up to two years of age provides individuals with the healthiest foundation. Sometimes, however, achieving adequate nutrition early in life isn’t feasible without some help, and that’s where CHWs come in.

To combat issues like malnutrition, Living Goods aims to send out CHWs armed with tools to educate and treat cases of malnutrition that they encounter. These CHWs conduct home visits to check on families; educate households on essential behaviors, like optimal breastfeeding practices and nutritional guidelines; diagnose and treat childhood illnesses, including malnutrition; and more. Living Goods’ community health worker model has contributed to a greater than 27 percent reduction in under-five mortality. How does this happen? It happens with the individual, like Evelyn.  

In the Sundulo Community Unit in the Chitelesi village in Kakamega County, western Kenya, Madam Evelyn the CHW knows her community well, navigating health problems and compounds with ease and purpose. One mother, Milka Nasenya, benefitted from Evelyn’s educational efforts throughout her pregnancy and into the birth and growth of her infant, Stephen. While boasting her son onto her lap, Milka exclaimed, “This is a Living Goods Child!” Evelyn’s education program, along with the Healthy Start porridge she provides Milka and her son, promotes healthy and optimal practices as well as a very nutritious foundation. “Huwa nampa Steve uji ya Healthy Start kila wakati!” said Milka, or, “I always give Steve Health Start porridge!”  

Just a few meters from Milka’s compound is another community member, impacted by Living Goods: Violet. Evelyn assisted Violet, another new mother in the community, who had her baby two months prematurely. The infant, now eight months old, was incubated after delivery and then released back to Violet. Thanks to education provided by Evelyn on how to ensure the highest quality breastmilk for her child. 

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