They walk shoulders high commanding respect from members of the community because they are direct link of people in the villages to health services in Kakamega County. They even diagnose and treat simple malaria, the most common disease in the region, and offer referrals in case it is complicated. But only one thing keeps them a team – Income Generating Activities.
In Butsotso South Ward of Kakamega County, members of Indagalasia B Community Unit (CU) are a typical example of united Community Health Volunteers (CHV) who have succeeded in managing malaria for thousands of villagers, but are using the same platform to improve their livelihoods.
“So far, each one of us has bought a cow courtesy of this group,” said Miriam Opechi, the group’s chairlady.
By offering the community health services, the group of 10 CHVs receive a monthly stipend of Sh2000 each from the Community Asset Building and Development (CABDA) – a local nongovernmental organisation, and they have managed to save and invest some of it in dairy farming.
“We decided to do our savings through a merry-go-round, where each member had to contribute Sh1000 of the stipend every month,” said Miriam Opechi, the group chairlady.
The money would be given to one member, and according to their agreement, the recipient would buy a cow. And now, after 10 successful rounds of contributions, each member has a cow.
“We encourage all Community Units to always work together for income generating ventures because it is the only thing that can keep them together as a team, and as they discuss their income issues, they also talk about community health, identify challenges and communicate the same to the County Government through our offices,” said Winfrida Obwaya of CABDA.
Community Health Volunteers are permanent members of the community who can read and write, and command some respect among the people.
In Kakamega County, they are recruited by CABDA in consultation with community members, and are taken through rigorous two weeks training on handling of malaria patients, testing for the disease, referring complicated cases, follow-up with patients on medication especially for those suffering from tuberculosis among other ailments.
“So far, we have 420 Community Units in Kakamega County alone, each with 10 Community Health Volunteers, and all the units have income generating activities of their choice,” said Obwaya.
According to the World Health Organisation, such community health service providers can make a valuable contribution to community development and, more specifically, can improve access to and coverage of communities with basic health services, hence, the need of keeping them together.
There is robust evidence that community health service providers can undertake actions that lead to improved health outcomes, especially, but not exclusively, in the field of child health.
However, according to James Emisiko of the Ministry of Health in Kakamega County, they require frequent supervision for quality assurance.