CHWs on the Frontline: Saving Mothers and Babies

Raising young children isn’t easy when resources are tight. But in rural Western Kenya, where disease is rife and hospitals are few and far between, keeping your family healthy can be the hardest thing of all.

“When I go to the clinic I will have to queue, and I will wait a long time,” explains Carolyne Juma, a mother of six, who lives in a village outside Funyula. “The child will cry, and if he is to die he may die there before I get to the doctor.”

Carolyne Juma poses with her child. Photo: Christian Bobst

Fortunately for Juma and her neighbors, their village is served by a community health worker (CHW) who provides primary health care door-to-door. These CHWs are part of the Kenyan government’s health care system but are often trained and equipped by Living Goods to offer lifesaving health education, diagnostics, and treatment for malaria, diarrhea, and pneumonia—the three most deadly illnesses for Kenyan children younger than five years.

“I love her so much because she is near me,” says Juma of her CHW, Caroline. “When I just ask her, ‘please come by,’ she will be there without hesitation. Before I used to struggle with the baby to go all the way to Nangina. But if you just call her and say you are sick, she will immediately come to you.”

For many mothers, the education CHWs offer can be as essential as the medicine itself. “When I was pregnant, my CHW, Amos, came and told me I should start sleeping under a net because the baby could be affected,” remembers Christine Onyango, who lives with her two children in a village outside Busia. “I wasn’t doing that, so I thank him. He is a very good person.”

 

CHW Amos poses during a household visit. Photo: Christian Bobst

Virginia Obare, who is raising five children on a remote island in Lake Victoria, explains that even the basic childrearing advice that her CHW has given her – often delivered via illustrated flipcharts – has made a difference in her family’s health.

“Caroline, my CHW, has taught me a lot that I did not know, like the fact that the baby must get all vaccines, or that the baby must be six months old before you can start giving solid foods. My children are growing up well, and they do not often get sick,” she says. Obare has had two children since the CHW started visiting her home, and, she adds, there has been a noticeable improvement. These two don’t get sick as often as her older children did, and they seem to be growing faster as well.

“I am grateful to Caroline,” says Obare. “She has given me a lot.”

In the fight to keep children healthy and strong, having even the most basic health care just next door can make all the difference.

Written by Hilary Heuer

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