Empowered health workers, healthier communities
CHW Grace Karen Akinyi consults with her supervisor Shadrack Werunga, Nairobi, Kenya. Photo: PCSU
When COVID-19 began to spread around the world, governments needed to get prevention information out into far-flung communities, and they needed to do it quickly. Particularly in remote settings, community-based health workers (CHWs) typically serve as trusted sources for this kind of critical health knowledge. But how could Ministries of Health inform CHWs themselves, in the context of COVID lockdowns that restricted travel to centralized training locations?
For several countries in Africa, the answer was Leap – an mHealth platform developed in Kenya by AMREF Health Africa. With LEAP installed on their mobile devices, community health workers have the latest information and tools literally at their fingertips at all times. Using SMS messages and interactive voice recordings they can access information, build skills and problem-solve in collaboration with colleagues in other regions.
The government of Kenya moved quickly to roll out Leap modules on COVID-19 – enabling CHWs to support their communities with accurate, relevant information about the coronavirus and how individuals can protect themselves and others. Margaret Kilonzo, a community health worker in Kibera, Kenya, explains, “I teach my community to wash their hands regularly, avoid congested areas and handshakes to prevent spreading or getting the coronavirus.”
Health workers in Kenya also learned how to identify, isolate and refer people who may have been exposed to the virus. Other countries were quick to follow, including several where Leap had not previously been in widespread use.
Once Leap is in place, it can be used to deliver information and training on a wide range of health issues, including immunization, HIV, family planning, maternal and newborn health, diabetes, first aid, nutrition and more. Further, it can help bridge between formal and informal healthcare settings. Empowering CHWs with this kind of information is critical, especially in the midst of a public health emergency like COVID-19. WHO projects the world will need 18 million additional health workers by 2030 – and providing greater support and training to CHWs could go a long way toward closing this gap.
Just as important, supporting CHWs helps neighbors to educate and care for one another. As part of the COVID-19 response and beyond, CHWs are key to delivering health services centered not on institutions, but on people.
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