Last week, I told you how many African countries are training frontline workers, including public health care staff, schoolteachers, midwives and traditional healers, to identify eye problems and other health concerns when they are working in the community. This type of community development program is highly effective in identifying health risks.
When I was at Kitale Eye Unit, I met Bernard Simiyu, a 61-year old local man who had been a community health worker for four years. He regularly walked great distances, covering a large district of about 50 rural homesteads and checking in with families to identify eye injuries, cataracts and refractive error (the need for prescription eyeglasses), among other medical conditions.
“Bernard and our other community health workers help identify patients for us. We hope to get bicycles to help them in their work,” said Dr. Hillary Rono, referring to the large districts the frontline workers canvass on foot.
Rono, the ophthalmologist at the eye unit, told me that Bernard was one of 32 community health workers in the Greater Trans-Nzoia District. The Ministry of Health trains the workers with support from Operation Eyesight and other NGOs.
If patients don’t live too far from the hospital, the frontline workers can literally lead them to the eye unit, or can use their hospital-sponsored mobile phones to call and arrange for a doctor or clinical officer to visit the rural area.
Bernard himself had been blind from cataracts, and was operated on five years earlier at another Operation Eyesight-supported eye unit at Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital. His son knew where the Kitale hospital was, and was able to escort him there, so Bernard appreciates the importance of having someone knowledgeable accompany a patient.
He told me, “When you are blind, it’s like being in a hole. You cannot see what’s going on. I was feeling painful when I wasn’t whole, so I decided to help other people to see. Eyes are so important.”
Would you like to help frontline workers like Janice and Bernard? Your gift can help train community health workers in Africa.