CHWs Going the Distance: An Arduous Journey to Bring Health to All

Photo: Christian Bobst

April 5-11 is World Health Worker Week. We are proud to partner with governments to support community health workers who work every day to improve and save lives. This week we’ll share and celebrate their stories.

For the residents of the remote villages around Osieko, on the shores of Lake Victoria, timing is everything.

Surrounded by water and accessible only via a circuitous boat ride through the towering papyrus reeds, these tiny settlements do sometimes have access to health clinics—but only during weekdays. If a child falls ill over the weekend or a woman goes into labor at night, reaching a doctor can mean a long and expensive journey over a lake with unpredictable waters.

“At night you just hire a boat…without that there is nowhere you can go,” explains Milliana Okumu, a local farmer and mother of four. “You wake someone up at night, you buy fuel, and of course the driver will want to be paid for taking you. If you leave here at 9 pm you might get to Osieko at 11 pm.” That’s if the water’s not too choppy. From there it’s a ten-kilometer motorbike ride to the nearest hospital.

Photo: Christian Bobst

Fortunately, many of these communities are now served by community health workers (CHWs)—local men and women trained and equipped by Living Goods. As residents of the villages in which they work, CHWs can advise and treat patients in areas where government-run clinics can’t penetrate.

Branch Manager Joseph Omondi explains that one of the villages in which Living Goods works, there are virtually no services at all. “There is no hospital there,” he says. “There used to be one, but the doctors refused to work because of the hardship. Just navigating there was very hard. But since we came they now get services, they get treatment.”

“Since we started, we’ve seen a big reduction in cases of illnesses,” he adds. “That’s why it’s important for Living Goods to continue being on the ground–there’s someone who goes door to door.”

In the village of Mkowa, that someone is CHW Caroline Odakha. She relishes being able to use her knowledge to educate her neighbors and advise them in case of a health crisis, treating cases of malaria, diarrhea, and pneumonia in their homes and saving them countless perilous trips across the lake.

Photo: Christian Bobst

“The thing that satisfies me is that I am helping my community because of the work that I do,” she smiles. “When the community is satisfied, you feel good.”

Written By Hilary Heuer

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