In far-flung regions of Narok county, where hospitals are kilometres away, community health workers provide valuable information that saves lives
Evelyn Makena @evemake_g
Adorned in gumboots with his head covered in a helmet and perched on a motorcycle, Dickson Patel glides into a cluster of homes set within vast wheat farms.
Patel walks through a narrow soggy path into a modest timber and mud homestead. In what has become part of his monthly routine, Patel traverses homesteads in Enaiborr Enajijik village in Narok county, offering health education and conducting check-ups.
The villagers fondly refer to him as doctor even though Patel has no formal medical training. He h as been serving in this remote village as a community health volunteer under Narok Integrated Development Programme (NIDP), a local non- governmental organisation for the past eight years.
Despite not having credentials, he has earned respect and trust in the village for saving lives.
Every few days in a month he rides his motorcycle knocking on doors to sensitise people on how to curb common preventable diseases such as pneumonia, diarrhoea and malaria and educate them on reproductive health and maternal health issues.
“I teach them the importance of digging pit latrines, which were not common among the villagers, remind young mothers to immunise their children, teach them about family planning, encourage expectant mothers to attend antenatal clinics and deliver in a health facility,” he says.
In this quiet homestead where most of the family members have drifted away to do chores, a young woman emerges from a hut cuddling an infant to usher in Patel. She delivered her baby a week prior to the visit in a nearby dispensary, becoming one among many women in the village are slowly embracing hospital deliveries since Patel began his work in the area.
Not long ago, many women preferred traditional birth attendants to skilled midwives, leading to many birth complications and high maternal mortality rate.
But through information disseminated to them through community health workers, women are slowly warming up to skilled deliveries. Several semi-permanent structures that serve as latrines now dot most homesteads in the area. When he is through with the visit, he retreats back to his home to tend to his maize farm and livestock.
He is part of an army of community health volunteers trained by NIDP to improve quality of healthcare by acting as a link between the community and health facilities in the vast county.
“There was a lot that the community did not know in regard to healthcare. The only time they interacted with health workers is when they came to the hospital, which was rare. Our work is to bridge that gap,” says Alice Manangoi, a Community Health Volunteer (CHV) in Ntulele sub-location, Narok County.
Through collaborations between the county government of Narok and NIDP, which is funded by Christian Aid, community health workers are transforming the landscape of primary healthcare in the county by bringing the crucial services right to people’s doorsteps. “The county trains the workers while the organisation offers financial support,” says Willy Asige Coordinator Health Programme, NIDP.
Save and invest
The CHVs who do not earn a wage for their work are also benefiting from income-generating activities funded and supported by the organisation.
“There are 20 community health units across the county with each attached to a health facility.
In 2015, we gave each of the units seed money of Sh100,000 to start different activities as a way of motivating them,” says Willy.
The community health unit, which Patel belongs to for instance, decided to start a table banking project.
“We borrow loans to support our ventures and pay our children’s fees.
The loans have helped in financing my farming venture and in supporting my family,” he says. Prior to the introduction of the income-generating activities programme, community health workers benefited from a monthly stipend of Sh2,000, which was not enough to sustain their daily basic needs.
Engaging in the income generating activities has also strengthened teamwork between the community health workers. Besides discussing how to save and invest when they meet, they also share ideas on how to best execute the task of promoting healthcare at the grassroots level.