Ghana: Community-based volunteers improve access to health services (IPS)

| June 23, 2014

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A few years ago, Zainab Abubakar was an ordinary woman living in Kpilo, a rural area in Ghana’s Northern Region. But now she provides basic medical diagnoses and treatments, and saves the lives of many children.

Kpilo is a 12-kilometre walk from the nearest medical facility, which is the only formal treatment centre for nearly 40 northern communities. In northern Ghana, less than ten per cent of communities outside the regional capital, Tamale, have a local clinic.

But, instead of making the long trek to a crowded health centre, mothers can now take their sick children to Ms. Abubakar. When she sees children with symptoms such as sweating, weakness and fever, she can differentiate between cases of pneumonia and malaria. She can also treat and provide medication for these illnesses.

Ms. Abubakar says, “In [cases of malaria], I bathe the child and then I dissolve one tablet of amodiaquine in a small clean cup and give it to the child to drink.”

Ms. Abubakar is one of 16,500 community-based volunteers, or CBVs, trained by the Ghana Health Service, or GHS. The CBVs manage common childhood diseases in communities without access to healthcare facilities. GHS supplies the medication to treat the illnesses. While medication is free, most people offer about 20 US cents as a token payment for their medication.

This rural health initiative, called Integrated Community Case Management or ICCM, is supported by UNICEF and funded by the U.S. government.

Since 2007, CBVs in Ghana’s four northern regions have been trained to reduce the high rate of child mortality. Pneumonia, diarrhoea and malaria account for two of every five child deaths.

Mr. Alhassan Abukari is the assistant project coordinator for ICCM in GHS’s Northern Regional Health Directorate. He says the lack of resources and personnel means that GHS is unable to provide medical care to most communities.

Mr. Abukari says it is more difficult to provide services in northern communities because they are hard to reach and frequently cut off because of flooding during the rainy season.

He adds: “A sizeable number of people in peri-urban communities of the region do not have access to health facilities, so these volunteers are really bridging the very wide gap that existed.”

Ms. Abubakar and the other CBVs are not paid for their work. But she is happy saving lives. She is motivated by the fact that every child belongs to the community, and it’s her passion to serve the community.

Mahama Abdullah is the chief of Kpilo. He says, “Since these CBVs started working in this community, the health of children here has improved.”

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