Unifying Communities through Improved Child Health in Benin

More than 1,000 volunteer community health workers in northern Benin, trained to treat childhood illnesses by the USAID-funded, MSH-led BASICS Benin project, have done more than save lives. They have had a unifying effect in their communities, building trust and alliances among neighbors.

In the rural village of Kaki-Koka, community health worker Celine Edjeou can treat the most dangerous threats to children—malaria, diarrhea, and pneumonia—before they become life-threatening, saving the villagers long trips to a health center. Celine says she has developed a bond with the families in her village; she thinks of all the children in her village as her children. Her neighbors respect her more now that she is a community health worker. They listen to her. Celine uses this confidence to initiate discussions about good health practices within the community and connect community members to each other.

Celine, like many other community health workers, says she is rewarded for her work by how grateful her neighbors are to her. “The mothers help me in doing other types of work for my family,” she says. Once, she paid for a child’s malaria treatment because the child’s mother could not afford it. Celine is confident that the favor will be returned someday. She believes that Kaki-Koka is a healthier, more connected and more productive community since she began working there.

The BASICS project in Benin has implemented an integrated management system for illness in children under the age of five, deploying the health workers and engaging community organizations in supporting proper immunization and nutrition practices.