April 2017

A community health volunteer explains the use of pregnancy tests to a client.

This World Health Worker Week (April 2-8), we honor the health workers around the world who work every day to improve health in their communities. This photo essay illustrates the important role that community health volunteers play in strengthening Madagascar's health system.

Community health volunteers (CHVs) play a critical role in providing primary health care services in Madagascar, especially for rural populations who live far from health facilities. In many areas of the country, CHVs often collectively offer services to more people than health centers do. CHVs are important extensions of the Malagasy health system, particularly for women and children.

As of 2016, the USAID Mikolo Project, led by MSH and funded by USAID, supported nearly 7,000 CHVs across 506 communes. They fill a critical gap in human resources for health in support of the Ministry of Public Health’s efforts to improve health care in the country.

[A CHV provides reproductive health education.]A CHV provides reproductive health education.

{Photo Credit: Mark Tuschman}Photo Credit: Mark Tuschman

Pregnancy and childbirth are times of unparalleled change and hope for the future. But for many women, the arrival of a new baby is also a challenging time — one that can be overshadowed by depression.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that more than 1 in 10 women suffer from postnatal depression, a devastating statistic that too often receives no attention. In African countries and contexts where women are exposed to poverty, persistent poor health, migration, conflict, gender-based violence, extreme stress, and unwanted pregnancy, the estimates are even higher, with up to 25 percent of women experiencing clinical depression after childbirth.  

The effects of depression on social and economic wellbeing and on families are enormous, as the risks and consequences go well beyond an individual woman. Depression in pregnancy is linked to preterm birth and low birth weight, which increases the risk of complications such as undernutrition and heart disease. Women who suffer from postpartum depression are often stigmatized and less likely to benefit from postnatal and preventive health care for themselves and their children. Partners and families may have difficulty understanding why a new mother who should be happy at the birth of a healthy baby is depressed.

A health worker fills in a child’s immunization booklet during an immunization clinic at Phebe Hospital in central Bong County, Liberia. (Cindy Shiner/MSH)

After losing both her parents to Ebola, Liberian nurse Salome Karwah recovered from the virus herself. Protected by her new immunity, she returned to work to care for countless other victims. Time Magazine recognized her as a 2014 Person of the Year for her compassion and tirelessness. In February of this year, Nurse Karwah was rushed to the hospital with seizures following a cesarean delivery of her son. Her garish symptoms frightened the hospital staff that knew she had survived Ebola. They would not touch her. They let her die without treatment.

That is what stigma looks like.

Even after being declared free of Ebola, many survivors found themselves alone, as the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies reported. A chilling new normal replaced the terror and death in the isolation wards: rejection by family, friends, and neighbors, even by their places of worship. Employers fired them. Customers abandoned them. There was no carrying on with the lives they knew before Ebola. There was only more loss.

{Photo Credit: Todd Shapera}Photo Credit: Todd Shapera

We have made great strides in ridding the world of malaria, but there’s still work to be done—and the time is right to finish the job. New technology is helping communities around the world prevent, diagnose, and treat malaria in new and innovative ways. In Mozambique, the Malaria Consortium has developed a phone app that helps community health workers diagnose and treat malaria. In Zanzibar, Tanzania, local health facilities can use text messages to report malaria cases. And Mali uses a system called OSPSANTE, developed by the MSH-led, USAID-funded Systems for Improved Access to Pharmaceuticals and Services (SIAPS) project, to track the availability and use of pharmaceuticals in the fight against malaria.

{Photo Credit: Warren Zelman}Photo Credit: Warren Zelman

Malaria in pregnant women contributes to several negative outcomes including miscarriage, premature birth, labor complications, low birth-weight babies, anemia, and maternal and newborn death. In Sierra Leone, malaria in pregnancy and child mortality rates are especially high: the disease contributes to nearly 40 percent of deaths of children under the age of five. While there is a clear understanding of the interventions needed throughout the country, at training institutions and health facilities, there is a gap in the skillset and knowledge of how to implement effective malaria diagnosis and treatment.

 {Photo credit: Todd Shapera}Emanuel Bizimungu a community health worker in Rwanda, examines a girl, Sandrine Uwase, two and a half, who he treated for malaria. She recovered after several days. They are in Nyagakande village, near the Ruhunda health center in eastern Rwanda.Photo credit: Todd Shapera

Malaria is a complex disease – how it’s transmitted and where, who becomes sick, the numerous efforts to control and combat it and, yet, after centuries we still haven’t managed to eradicate it.

During the past five years, the global partnership to fight malaria has witnessed some success including a 29% reduction in malaria mortality and a 75% increase in use of insecticide-treated nets (ITNs). Despite these successes, the global burden of disease still sits heavily at 212 million new cases and 429,000 deaths in 2015 – the majority of which are in sub-Saharan Africa. Nearly half the world’s population is at risk of contracting malaria with 70% of malaria deaths occurring in children less than five years of age, who are particularly susceptible to the disease (WHO, 2016).

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