Community Outreach Workers: Saving Lives Door to Door

Community Outreach Workers: Saving Lives Door to Door

Blog post updated Dec. 28, 2011.

Aynalem with community outreach worker, Woineshet, in Ethiopia. (MSH)


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 (bread) 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 USAID’s HIV/AIDS Care and Support Program, 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 USAID’s HIV/AIDS Care and Support Program, implemented by Management Sciences for Health (MSH). 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,” said Aynalem, referring to the two outreach workers. “For me, Woineshet and Wolela are not simple community volunteers. Rather, they are precious gifts from God. They are angels sent from God to save and shape my life.”

Dr. Fentahun Tadesse Akale is the technical director of the Ethiopia Network for HIV/AIDS Treatment, Care and Support (ENHAT) project's Tigray regional office.