Community health worker (CHW) Beatrice Awuor will never forget the day she was called to the home of a dead child. Or at least, that was what she was told.
“When I reached them, people were scared because the child had convulsed and they believed he passed on,” she remembers. “I asked them what had happened, and they told me that the child had just fallen down and died.”
Fortunately, Awuor knew better. After a quick assessment, she determined that the two-year-old patient was actually alive and in need of urgent treatment for malaria. “We rushed the child to the hospital and the child was treated…and is alive today!” she says, adding that she no doubt saved the little boy’s life. “Instead of helping him the people were scared and crying. He could have passed on because the fever was high.”
Awuor is a CHW serving the rural communities around Nambale—in Western Kenya. For rural families like these, she is the first point of contact in the health care pipeline. Awuor received extensive training by Living Goods on malaria, one of the top causes of under-five mortality in the county. Armed with this knowledge, she can refer urgent or complex cases like this to the local hospital, or alternatively test for and treat malaria herself in her neighbors’ homes.
In areas like Western Kenya—where malaria is an especially deadly scourge—the simple intervention of a knowledgeable community member has made a tremendous difference.
Mwanadi Abdisiz, a local farmer from a small village outside Nambale, says CHWs like Awuor have helped encourage the households in her neighborhood to prevent malaria by simply changing their habits. “Sleeping under a net, clearing the yard so that it is not bushy, cleaning the homestead, and getting rid of potholes because mosquitoes can lay eggs in stagnant water – when the CHWs visit they advise them to maintain this kind of cleanliness,” she says.
Apart from education services, the ability to treat illness so close to home has also helped drive down mortality rates “They are also close to us so when we get malaria, we run to them,” explains Carolyne Juma, a mother of six in a nearby village. “Now that is one thing that has really helped us. I have not heard that someone has died of malaria.”
“When I treat somebody and somebody heals, that’s an achievement,” beams Awuor. “You become very happy.” Thanks to her tireless efforts as a CHW, her community is happier too.
Photos by Christian Bobst