For the past 10 years, I have been advocating to global and US decision makers to invest money into global health and support policies that extend access to quality healthcare to the poor and most vulnerable families in low and middle-income countries. One of the biggest challenges is getting people who grew up with access to good healthcare (though not perfect) to understand that most women around the world aren’t choosing between which hospital to deliver at or interviewing pediatricians for post-delivery–they’re hoping that they will survive childbirth, and their babies survive delivery.
Last week I took my first trip to the Living Goods hub in Thika, about 45 minutes outside of Nairobi. In Kenya, community health workers are known as community health volunteers (CHVs). I shadowed a CHV named Beth as she visited women in a nearby area. While I’ve had the privilege of seeing many inspiring community health workers in action, I was most excited to see first hand how our mobile technology helps community health workers like Beth do their jobs even better.
One of the biggest challenges is getting people who grew up with access to good healthcare (though not perfect) to understand that most women around the world aren’t choosing between which hospital to deliver at or interviewing pediatricians for post-delivery–they’re hoping that they will survive childbirth, and their babies survive delivery.
Beth was a mini celebrity in her community. Clients asked her many questions, and she was clearly perceived as an authority figure among her neighbors. Beth collected referrals for new clients and entered them into her mobile app, calling ahead to see if women were at work or home. When Beth could not handle an issue on her own–including a child’s bothersome skin condition–she entered the client’s information in her mobile app and referred the mother to the nearest health clinic. The app will automatically remind Beth to follow up with the mother to make sure the child gets the help.
During one home visit with a pregnant mother, Beth forgot to talk about a birth plan. While CHVs are heroic, they are still human at the end of the day. Sometimes they forget things, just like the rest of us! I was very impressed that the app actually reminded Beth to talk to the client about bringing a safe birthing kit to bring to the hospital. In Kenya these kits–which include sterile razor blades, surgical gloves, and soap–are mandatory for delivery, and mothers could be denied from the hospital if they don’t have one. This was the perfect example of how the app can support community health workers in the field by arming them with medical know-how in the palm of their hand.
A few weeks before I traveled to Kenya I saw the movie the Justice League, where Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman, and other heroes work together to fight evil. Just like the movie, we can’t single handedly fight our enemy: child and maternal mortality. It requires a coordinated, concerted, and heroic effort that requires an ecosystem of support. A community health worker on the frontlines needs to be backed up with a hands-on, attentive supervisor and armed with smart tech tools that take her superpowers to the next level.
Just like the movie, we can’t single handedly fight our enemy: child and maternal mortality.
No movies will be made about this team, but their work does not go unnoticed. Their story is epic. They are the local real-life superheroes making a difference every day.
Crystal Lander is a senior public health professional who launched the advocacy and global policy portfolios for two global non-governmental organizations. As the Director of Advocacy for Living Goods, she manages engagement on global health policy to drive the organization’s vision for lasting and systemic impact that will enable every family to access quality health care in the community in which they live. Prior to Living Goods, Ms. Lander led the advocacy unit at Management Sciences for Health (MSH) for more than seven years. Ms. Lander is a graduate of the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Spanish and Economics and a Master of Public Health from Tulane’s School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine with a degree in International Health Policy.