When medical personnel are scarce and rural populations are sparse, it’s time to get creative.
Basic eye care is a significant problem in many parts of Africa; in fact, sub-Saharan Africa has one of the highest rates of visual impairment and blindness in the world. Poverty, disease and lack of access to eye care all contribute to unnecessary blindness.
Luckily, in many developing countries (including the four African countries where Operation Eyesight works), it is proving remarkably cost-effective to provide frontline workers with basic training in eye health and disease prevention.
Public health care workers, schoolteachers, midwives and even traditional healers (many of them local to the districts they serve) are being trained to identify eye problems when interacting with local communities. They then can provide referrals to medical care. This type of community development program is highly effective in identifying health risks.
When I was in Kenya last year, I met some community health workers who are making a significant impact on eye health in their districts.
Janice Cherono is a public health officer, hired through Kenya’s Ministry of Health, who works at Naroosura Eye Clinic, a satellite clinic of Narok District Hospital. Janice supervises 40 community health workers and 25 active volunteers, teaching them to help individuals and communities become aware of all aspects of health, including sanitation, face and hand washing, trachoma prevention and the importance of pit latrines.
The frontline workers report to Janice any health concerns they come across, including trachoma, diarrhoea, malaria and malnutrition. They are equipped to treat minor ailments, and frequently refer severe cases to clinics or hospitals.
“We have face-to-face meetings when we go on outreach trips, and we visit schools to inform children, so they can tell their parents,” Janice told me. “Many people are willing to listen but some are resistant to change. We try to reach the community members who are role models for their community. They are opinion leaders. There is strength in community health workers, but we need assistance to train more.”
Return next week to read Part 2 and learn why one community health worker chooses to walk great distances to help make his community healthier. In the meantime, learn more about community health workers in our Indian programs, too!