Feature: Kenya's community health volunteers boost fight against malaria

2021-11-30 08:30:46 GMT2021-11-30 16:30:46(Beijing Time) Xinhua English

VIHIGA, Kenya, Nov. 30 (Xinhua) -- Mary Omoche's amiable personality was on display as she huddled with a family in the western Kenyan county of Vihiga during a routine visit recently to enquire about whether they had put strong buffers in place to ward off malaria attack.

The middle-aged mother of five who enlisted as a community health volunteer in 2006, has earned rock star fame in the hilly villages that dot western Kenya thanks to her tireless devotion to the fight against a tropical disease that has ravaged households for decades.

Omoche's ability to enliven the mood of her audiences stood out as she explained the intricacies of contracting or avoiding malaria to young and elderly occupants of the humble abode where she had paid a visit.

"As a community health volunteer, it is my cardinal duty to provide households with information and tools that are key to fight malaria. The disease can be fatal besides having a devastating toll on family livelihoods," Omoche told Xinhua during an interview at the home.

She belongs to a growing army of foot soldiers, who have revolutionized the fight against malaria in western Kenya by reaching out to households in far-flung hamlets with preventive tools including insecticide treated bed nets.

On regular occasions, Omoche pays impromptu visits to certain households, educating them about novel ways to prevent them from contracting malaria and how to manage the disease.

Esnas Inyambukho, a 78-year-old farmer whose younger sister succumbed to malaria more than five decades ago nodded with appreciation as Omoche finished the health talk at an unusually humid mid-morning.

According to Inyambukho, the presence of a community health volunteer in her humble abode was reassuring given the flood of information that enlightened her on how to shield her entire household from malaria.

"Our community has benefitted from the sacrifices of these volunteers who have been providing bed nets and some sprays to help us keep malaria causing mosquitoes at bay," said Inyambukho.

Her 21-year-old grand-daughter in-law, Sharon Nasimiyu, who is eight months pregnant, confessed that robust outreach by community health volunteers has ensured that she was shielded from malaria attack, despite her vulnerability.

Nasimiyu revealed that malaria attacks were frequent and severe during her first pregnancy amid lack of information on its prevention or effective treatment options available.

"Delivering my now one-and-a-half-year-old first-born son was the culmination of struggle and pain, as malaria took a toll on me on an almost monthly basis. I became weak and even doctors worried about my future," said Nasimiyu.

Currently on prophylaxis medication recommended for pregnant mothers in malaria endemic regions, Nasimiyu said she felt adequately protected from the disease.

Kenya's growing army of community health volunteers is behind sterling performance in the fight against malaria and other infectious diseases that often take a heavier toll on vulnerable groups like women and children.

Donald Apat, program manager, Global Fund Malaria Project at Amref Health Africa in Kenya created in Kenya credited these volunteers for a reduction in new malaria infections and fatalities.

"The input of community health volunteers in the malaria fight has been phenomenal in the last couple of years. They have revolutionized testing, tracing and case management of the disease," said Apat.

He noted that community-based health volunteers have ensured that provision of insecticide treated nets is seamless besides encouraging households to spray mosquito bleeding sites like bushes and stagnant water.

Apat said that as a result of tireless devotion of these volunteers, national malaria prevalence in Kenya has dropped from a high of 8 to the current 6 percent, based on the results of Kenya Malaria Indicator Survey of 2020.

He revealed that malaria endemic counties in western Kenya had a combined prevalence rate of 19 percent adding that caseload in Vihiga had dropped significantly amid more than 90 percent coverage of insecticide treated nets.

Apat said that ensuring that the country's 60,000 community health volunteers were adequately remunerated, had access to protective gear and regular training was key to achieve malaria elimination target by 2030.

On his part, John Mukhwana, an elderly father of six said that working as a community health volunteer since 2015 has been a rewarding experience, more so after witnessing a drop in malaria cases and deaths.

According to the former small-scale farmer, his fervent outreaches have ensured that rural disadvantaged groups have access to information on malaria prevention and treatment.

"Whenever I visit households in cut off localities, I explain to them how malaria is acquired but also conduct tests and refer positive cases to nearest health facilities for treatment," said Mukhwana.

Dave Singili, a 26-year-old holder of a diploma in community health said that volunteering his time and skills since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 has aided the fight against malaria in his backyard.

Currently a community health extension worker domiciled in the larger Vihiga county, Singili said that enlightening rural households on malaria prevention measures has been a game changer in the disease fight.

"The local communities have been receptive to our malaria control messaging and that is why cases have gone down, thus easing pressure on health facilities," said Singili. Enditem