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2 June 2022 - News

FILLING THE GAP: WHEN COMMUNITY HEALTH VOLUNTEERS MATTER

By Jonathan Munai, Samburu County Communications Directorate

In a quiet Marti village, on the outskirts of Archer's Post town, Samburu East, the rains have cooled the thirsty earth. A little greenery can be visible on the sprawling Savannah and the adjacent hills, thanks to recent downpour that pounded the region.  It is that season of the year when the pastoralists gather their strengths and rise from the dust of a devastating drought period that has taken a toll on their livelihoods for more than a year now.

Marti village, like many other parts of arid Northern Kenya, has not been spared by the biting effects of the wave of climate change. However, behind this situation are stories of communities that stood the test of time, of resilience and a people determined to adapt to the dynamics of their ever-changing world.

An interesting aspect of the people of Marti village is how they have embraced and practiced simple community health and nutrition practices within family settings. The village has community health volunteers who provide invaluable services to the people of Marti village as well as many parts of Samburu.

They deliver key health messages to their respective communities, advice on basic maternal and child health practices, nutrition advice and screening, guiding communities on health improvement and disease prevention amongst other tasks.

For the past five years, Jeisen Lebasha has been involved in community health volunteering for his people in Marti village. His attachment to the wellbeing of his community is so visible here that women and men alike revere him.

Lebasha oversees 47 households with a total of 226 people in Marti village in his community health volunteering work. He has since attended to hundreds of men, women, and children here. In monitoring the nutrition status of children in this village for example, Lebasha uses the Middle Upper Arm Circumference tool - MUAC to check out whether children are nourished or are at the verge of being malnourished or already malnourished.

The MUAC tool has since been effective in addressing a number of nutrition related issues affecting children in Samburu as it most importantly guides in the execution of some of the most urgent actions needed to attend to malnutrition cases.

The story of Jeisen Lebasha does not however end there. Lebasha has passed his knowledge to men and women in Marti village. The same has also been replicated in many other community health units across Samburu.

Meta Lenakwalai, a resident of Marti village is one of the mothers who has learnt from Jeisen Lebasha.

I have learnt how to use the MUAC tool. Whenever I want to assess the nutrition status of my children or suspect that any of them is malnourished, I use the MUAC tool to screen them, Meta Lenakwalai says.

Community health volunteers have for decades operated without any pay despite their quite demanding and sometimes daunting tasks that they have been involved in. Perhaps the most unprecedented moment of their career was during the start of the COVID 19 pandemic when stringent control measures by authorities were enforced hindering most of the social and economic activities around.

With a new partnership by USAID Nawiri project and the County Government of Samburu, the community health volunteers in Samburu have started to receive monthly stipends, which will ultimately give a boost and a motivation to their incredible work in grassroot communities.

With the Community Health Volunteers Act of 2020 passed by the County Assembly of Samburu, the future of the community health systems in the county looks brighter. The USAID Nawiri project in Samburu has already committed Ksh 37 million with the County Government of Samburu injecting another Ksh 41 million towards supporting community health volunteers for a start.

Cover Photo: Jeisen, a Community Health Volunteer going about his household visits in Marti village.

 

Disclaimer:The Humanitarian stories of change documentation was made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents of this report are the responsibility of Save the Children - Mercy Corps Consortium, and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government.