Lucia Issah, 35, dropped out of school after writing her Primary School Leaving Certificate of Education examinations several years ago.
Her dream of becoming a medical doctor vanished with the decision but today, she is still partly fulfilling it, though not in hospital wards or operation theatres.
Every Friday, Lucia and her colleagues leave their homes in Taliyani Village, Traditional Authority Jalasi in Mangochi, to fight malaria, pneumonia, malnutrition and diarrhoea among infants in their communities.
“We advise communities how they can prevent diseases and other conditions which are big threats to infants’ lives. In the unfortunate event that prevention fails, we assist them in getting the required treatment at a health facility,” Lucia says.
She is among 1,340 community health volunteers (CHVs) trained by Amref Heath Africa to fight diseases that mostly affect children under the age of five.
Two thousand more are expected to be trained in the same areas.
T/A Jalasi’s area, which is among those poorly serviced in terms of access to public health services, seriously requires workers of Lucia’s cadre to ease the disease burden.
Long distances to health facilities used to hinder infants’ ability to access healthcare services as their parents chose to nurse any illness at home—without the requisite skills.
So, Lucia and her fellow CHVs are crucial personnel equipped with skills to detect malaria and other infections that disturb lives of infants.
“Most people in our areas did not go far with school and find it difficult to detect diseases among children. As such, we often visit their homes and check for infection signs and symptoms before referring patients to hospital for treatment,” Lucia says.
The CHVs also enforce bylaws shaped by traditional leaders which promote correct use of mosquito nets and sanitation and hygiene.
“Our goal is to reduce the prevalence of malaria in the villages we are working in. Deaths linked to the disease were common but not anymore,” she explains.
The CHVs, most of whom had little basic knowledge of assisting patients, are sufficiently provided with basic primary health tips from medical experts through mobile phones which they got from Amref through a mobile learning solution dubbed Leap.
It employs an appropriate mobile learning approach to train and empower health workers using mobile devices operating from any phone enabling the health workers to learn at their own pace.
Leap project officer, Petros Kamanga, waxes lyrical about the role CHVs are playing in reducing the prevalence of malaria and other diseases and conditions communities.
Kamanga says Amref, through the district health offices (DHOs), noted that several children were dying of malaria although the disease is largely preventable.
Thus, according to Kamanga, Amref Health Africa launched the Leap Project through which it intends to train 5,000 CHVs and health surveillance assistants (HSAs) through basic mobile phone texts and interactive voice recordings.
The project, sponsored by the Dutch Lottery Club, is equipping health workers in Mangochi and Ntchisi districts with knowledge and skills of detecting malaria and other diseases.
“The project is responding to a critical shortage of healthcare workers in Malawi, especially at community level, which led to the creation of community health volunteers.
“CHVs support HSAs at community level with disease prevention, health promotion activities as well as referral of cases,” Kamanga says.
He adds that CHVs are registering success in communities where they work such that there are remarkable reductions in deaths of infants.
Information at Mangochi DHO shows that close to 55 percent of cases treated within the district’s health facilities are as a result of malaria.
But under-five children make up about 80 percent of the malaria cases that are treated in the hospitals.
Senior Health Surveillance Assistant at Namwera Health Centre, Clemence Chimatiro, who is also responsible for recording malaria cases at the facility, says the hospital is registering few cases of malaria since the introduction of the Leap Project a year ago.
“Malaria is preventable, so we are happy that the volunteers are encouraging communities to engage in activities that can help them in preventing malaria,” Chimatiro says.
The Leap Project is said to contribute to driving lasting health change for communities in Sub-Saharan Africa by increasing access to quality, timely and appropriate training by reaching learners on any device.
The project also empowers organisations and health workers to transform the health outcomes of the communities they serve, among others.