By Angie Boehmer, Frist Global Health Leader
“What motivates you to do this work?” I asked as we walked through a field of maize to visit the home of a family enrolled in the Thrive Thru 5 program.
“I want to see children healthy,” said Eunice, one of Lwala Community Alliance’s (LCA) community health workers.
“Me too. Let’s be friends,” was my response.
Once a week I spend the day following LCA’s community health workers (CHW) from home to home to visit families in the Thrive Thru 5 program. This is probably one of my favorite days of the week.
In one home the CHW introduced me to a smiling, playful 3-year-old boy. “The last time I was here,” she told me, “I found that this child was very sick with malaria, so I helped the mother to get him to a health facility for treatment."
At another home I watched as the CHW enrolled a pregnant woman in the Thrive Thru 5 program. This was the woman’s first pregnancy, so the CHW sat with the mother teaching her ways to keep herself and the baby healthy, as well as why it is important to go for antenatal care.
On another visit, as we walked up to a family’s home, the mother came out the front door to greet us, holding a swaddled newborn to her chest. “That baby was born premature,” the CHW told me, “so we taught her how to do kangaroo care to help the baby grow.”
In 2010, I followed a doctor around the pediatric ward of a hospital in Nigeria. That day I met 2 children who were so sick, they likely would not survive. One was malnourished and the other had malaria. The pained expressions I saw on the faces of their mothers that day matched the expression I often saw on mothers’ faces when I worked as a nurse in the United States. Except on this day, the mothers were soon to lose their children because of completely preventable causes.
I don’t believe any mother should have to lose her child, so the pained expression on those mothers’ faces came to mind often in the weeks that followed. I spent a lot of time thinking about how the children’s deaths could have been prevented. What if the mothers had been empowered with knowledge to protect their child from malaria or where to go if the child needed nutritional support? What if someone in the community had noticed the child’s early signs of illness and advised the mother to take the child to the health facility to be treated before their sickness became so advanced?
What I see happening for families in the LCA Thrive Thru 5 program, through CHW home visits, is exactly what I wish those Nigerian mommas would have had in their place. A community member who shares in the mother’s desire to see her children healthy and is trained to empower her with knowledge to help her children grow strong. Someone in the community who is a point of contact and advisor for mothers when their children are ill and can facilitate a quick referral to a health facility when needed.
I think that is why my day spent following the CHW’s from home to home is my favorite day of the week, because I get to tangibly witness how Lwala Community Alliance is helping children to Thrive Thru 5.