by James Kamuye Kataru

Celebrating the unsung heroes of the Kenyan health system.

During this Covid-19 pandemic, there is a group of heroes who have bore the brunt of the pandemic and witnessed its ravaging effects firsthand. Heroes and heroines who live right in the community providing basic disease preventative and control services.  Men and women who, for the love of a healthy society, have used their basic health knowledge to teach their communities how to fight and stop the spread of infections and diseases such as malaria, cholera, dysentery, bilharzia, Covid-19, tuberculosis, and many others.

Community Health Volunteer (CHV) during a past jigger eradication campaign. Photo by Emma. CHV, Kakamega county.

Community health volunteers, or CHVs, can be likened to Agricultural Extension Service providers of the medical and human health sector in Kenya. The difference between these beautiful souls and the Agricultural Extension Service providers is that CHVs are “VOLUNTEERING” for the love of their communities with little or no financial gain.

Emma, a CHV leader in Kakamega county, lists some of the integral services these ardent foot soldiers of the health sector help government provide;

1. Visits to the sick in their homes, ensuring they receive medication and requisite health services.

2. Help the government issue alerts, mobilize communities, and run immunization and anti-jigger campaigns.

3. Assist government distribute distribution of mosquito nets, water purifiers, and other government issued tools to households to help stop/prevent malaria and other infectious diseases.

4. Work with development partners in the health sector to reach out and train communities on basic disease prevention measures.

5. Make home visits, initiate dialogue with household members, determine health situations, deliver key health messages and necessary actions.

6. Guide the community on health improvement and disease prevention.

7. Register households at frequencies stipulated in current guidelines.

8. Treat common ailments and minor injuries.

9. With support and guidelines from Community Health Workers-CHEWS/Community Health Assistants-CHAS, implement protocols for Community Based Maternal and Newborn Health and integrated Community Case Management of Childhood illnesses, etc.

10. Carry out basic surveys, monitor the health of their community, and report to government and other health sector players.

While chatting with a number of CHVs via a WhatsApp group and through phone calls, their leaders from different regions of Kenya agreed on a number of ways they could use SAWBO-(Scientific Animations Without Borders) digital information to better their service delivery and positively impact  communities and households. Most of them, after watching, singled out SAWBO videos on Corona virus Covid-19, Drug resistant TB, and charcoal water filtration.  As important animations for their communities.

Liz Otieno, a CHV from Lurambi in Kakamega County who volunteers in the Kakamega town community, appreciates the fact that they can access downloadable, shareable, educative videos from SAWBO and use them to teach households on various disease preventive measures.

While Ademba, a Malindi town based CHV leader, notes the challenges they encounter while serving their communities include insufficient pamphlets, educative charts and general teaching aides. He believes SAWBO animation videos could come in handy. He further confides that it’s much easier to disseminate digital information to households, who incidentally have smart phones, than distribute charts and pamphlets which are either kept away or used to light the fire or wrap items.

According to Victor, a 24- year- old Mombasa based CHV and Mombasa Technical College student, the availability of SAWBO health practices videos will make his teams’ work easier, because they’ll be able to use them in online engagements. He appreciates the fact that the videos come in handy during this second wave of COVID-19 where his groups have reduced household visits and resorted to online mobilization. Victor states that his clientele, made up of youthful beneficiaries, will learn a lot from the educative content of the SAWBO videos. “These videos are not only dealing with health aspects, but also Agriculture and Women’s empowerment which are a daily occurrence for our rural-based youth membership,” adds Victor.  

How CHVs are structured.

Douglas Moyan, a Kakamega county CHV leader, states that CHVs provide services from KEPH-(Kenya Essential Package for Health) at the community level, supporting CHEWs-(Community Health Workers) to link the household with health facilities. CHEWs are supervised by HFMC-(Health facility Management Committees) at the local health facilities and CHEWs supervise all the CHVs in their community unit. To work efficiently and effectively, CHVs have structured to facilitate collaboration with both governments and development partners. In each county, there is a CHV chair person in charge of sub-county chairs, who in turn control community units also referred to as CUs. Kakamega county alone has 410 grassroots-based administration units which accommodate 10 members CHVs elected by their local community and managed by a lead CHV. This brings the number of CHVs in the county to approximately 4,000. Based on figures given in the media, Kenya is said to have an estimated CHV population of 86,000 volunteering within our communities. 

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