Women Deliver 2019: #ThePowerOf Community Health Workers

Ruth Ngechu, Living Goods, and Angela Nguku, White Ribbon Alliance, show their support for community health workers at the Living Goods booth.

Last week, we joined more than 8,000 leaders, advocates, implementers, and journalists from 165 countries in Vancouver, Canada for the 2019 Women Deliver conference. The conference, held every three years, is the world’s largest meeting on the health, rights and, well-being of women and girls.

“This summit is truly bringing people together,” Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stated at the conference opening plenary. “Let’s recommit to a brighter tomorrow for women and girls everywhere.”

With a focus on power and how it can drive–or hinder –progress and change, the power of community health workers (CHWs) was in the spotlight during several sessions throughout the conference. Recognized as an effective means to deliver a range of preventive, promotive, and curative services, community health programs bring services directly to the doorsteps of families, connects them to health facilities, and ultimately improves health outcomes.

However, to fully unleash the power of CHWs, they must be integrated into primary health care systems and must be able to collaborate in larger scale health worker teams. “Every CHW encounters a case that surpasses their knowledge and the patient has to be referred,” said Jennifer Schechter of Integrate Health during a session hosted by UNICEF, USAID, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “Both CHWs and strong health facilities are needed for primary health care.”

Margaret Kilzono, a CHW in Kenya, speakers on the Power Stage at Women Deliver.

Margaret Kilzono, a Kenyan CHW supported by Amref Health Africa, echoed this sentiment on the conference’s Power Stage saying “We are the link between the communities and the health facilities. No one knows the community like us, the CHWs.”

The power of CHWs goes beyond improving health outcomes for women and girls. CHWs are integral to achieving universal health coverage (UHC) for everyone around the world. The moral foundation of UHC is that no one will be left behind, including those most vulnerable.

“How are we going to reach UHC?” asked Antionette Habinshuti from Partners in Health, Rwanda at Powering Change United for Women’s Children’s and Adolescents Health, a session hosted by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance and the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn & Child Health. “We can’t solve health problems in the hospital only, we must go into the community.”

As the conference came to an end, the momentum and energy for approaches to improve the health and livelihood of women and girls was palpable. By optimizing community health programs as well as achieving UHC, we will all move toward a more healthy and more gender-equal world, and, as Katja Iverson, the President and CEO of Women Deliver said, “in a gender-equal world, everybody wins.”

Written by

Emilie Chambert

Country Director, Uganda

Emilie is a passionate leader committed to influencing social and health changes. Since 1998, she has worked in leadership and management roles in both the private and nonprofit sector creating visions and strategies for organizations to enable them to expand health and social impact, foster innovation, grow and develop large professional teams and build meaningful and sustainable relations with government and key stakeholders. Working in South East Asia, Europe, and East Africa, she managed a diverse portfolio of projects including maternal, newborn, and child health services; reproductive health; social marketing; and fast-moving goods. She holds a Master’s in Business Administration from EDHEC in Lille, France and speaks fluent English, French, and Spanish.

Ruth Ngechu

Deputy Country Director, Community Health Partnerships

Ruth is a skilled public health specialist with extensive knowledge and skills in health policy, program management, knowledge management, community health programing, and health systems management. She has worked in both the public and private sectors and over the years has provided overall management and leadership in the development, implementation, and monitoring and evaluation of integrated health programs. She is a doctoral candidate in Health Communications at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology and holds a Master’s of Science in Health Systems Management from Kenya Methodist University. She is an M&E Fellow.

Sarah Lindsay

Manager, Global Advocacy
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