Outreach Workers: Saving Lives Door to Door

Twenty-six year-old Aynalem Bekele has spent her entire life struggling to survive. Left in poverty after her father’s death, Aynalem and her mother baked injera (flatbread)and washed clothes to afford the rent on their small, dilapidated house in Hawassa, Ethiopia. In late 2008, Aynalem’s health began to deteriorate, leaving her bedridden, unable to work or care for her elderly mother, and struggling to survive yet again.

Into this dire situation walked Woineshet and Wolela, two community outreach workers from the US Agency for International Development’s, Management Sciences for Health-led, HIV/AIDS Care and Support Program (HCSP), who first encountered Aynalem during a routine community assessment visit to neighboring homes. Recognizing the seriousness of her condition, Woineshet and Wolela counseled Aynalem and eventually convinced her to visit the local health center where she discovered she was HIV-positive. Supported by Woineshet and Wolela and the health center staff, Aynalem received counseling and learned she could live a healthy and productive life with HIV.

Community mobilization is vital to the success of HCSP. Community outreach workers, often HIV-positive themselves, conduct home visits during which they provide health education and sensitization counseling, identify families in need, and connect these families to services available at the health center. These outreach workers serve as a direct link between the community and the health center.

Thanks to the support of her local community outreach workers, Aynalem is now on antiretroviral therapy, and her health has improved dramatically. Woineshet and Wolela have even helped her get a job as a cleaner at the University of Hawassa. “These days I am in very good health. I am strong and energetic. I have regular income and job security. It happened because of these two ladies,” Aynalem explained, referring to the two outreach workers who changed her life.

“For me, Woineshet and Wolela are not simple community volunteers.  Rather, they are precious gifts from God.” she said.

To stem Ethiopia's AIDS epidemic and treat those infected, MSH is implementing the USAID-funded HIV & AIDS Care and Support Program (HCSP). HCSP is strengthening the health system and rapidly scaling up diagnostic and treatment services for HIV & AIDS and tuberculosis in five targeted regions in Ethiopia.

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