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Community health volunteers making change in the community  

At the heart of Katilu village, Turkana south sub county we meet Phoebe Nelima. She is a Community Health Volunteer. To her, finding her calling in this field is one of the greatest things to have happened to her. She says it gives her great satisfaction to interact with members of the community and ensuring pregnant mothers deliver safely.

The mother of four says her tasks include giving health talks to the community on nutrition and breastfeeding among others. “I can visit up to five households on a given day. I usually have a health talk on various topics including nutrition, gardening, and breastfeeding,” she says.

On other days she creates time to check on children on vaccination and if there are any defaulters, she ensures it is followed up. The tasks involve walking for long distances from one village to another. However, the intervention by PanAfricare has made her work easier.

She says the organisation which deals in nutrition and irrigation matters has provided her with a bicycle to ease her movement. “If technologies that are water-efficient such as the cone gardens can be brought to every homestead, every home would have access to nutritious vegetables every day,” she says.

In Namakat village Turkana County, Esther Ajikon has earned a new name daktari for championing health matters.

Apart from home visits which she conducts at least twice every week, Ajikon mobilises women in her community to train them on Water Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH). She also teaches women how to set up and manage kitchen gardens.

“Some traditional beliefs discourage breastfeeding, clinic visits, and vaccination. My work is to ensure that more mothers are willing to breastfeed and visit the clinic every month,” she says.

She notes that changing the beliefs requires patience and persistence. “Initially, some people never wanted to hear from me but after several visits, they gained interest in what I was saying,” she says.

Ajikon believes that improving the health of her community begins with improving feeding habits and changing norms.

Community Health Volunteers (CHVs) continue to play critical roles in providing Level 1 health services. In some cases especially in far-flung areas, they are the few available health service providers.

PanAfricare IMPACT Programme funded by Bayer Fund closely works with CHVs to reduce the prevalence of malnutrition. Trained health volunteers conduct regular home visits promoting behavior change, administer Mid-Upper Arm Circumference (MUAC) tests, refer acute cases of malnutrition, and hold health talks delivering key health messages.

By Peter Gitonga

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