Brazil

Mobile health workers deliver essential services to Brazilian families

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Brazilian mobile health agent Maria Dos Santos weighs a baby during a home visit.

By Thomas Nybo

FORTIM, Brazil, 1 October 2007 – Municipal health agent Maria Dos Santos travels on foot, visiting as many as 20 homes a day and treating everything from diabetes to heart disease, as well as offering a host of services to pregnant women and new mothers.

Today, her first stop is at the home of new mother Iris Nogueira, where she will examine Iris’s two-month-old daughter Amanda. 

 “Every month we are visited in our own house,” Iris says after the visit. “Today the health agent weighed my baby, performed a physical examination and offered me advice on proper child care.”  Amanda is just one of many babies under the care of Ms. Dos Santos, who walks to the homes of almost 240 families each month. To reach the most remote and hard-to-access families, other health workers in Brazil travel by bicycle, boat and horse-drawn cart.

Increase in prenatal exams

“This programme is very important, because before, pregnant women had to travel to another town 25 kilometres away to get their prenatal exams,” says Ms. Dos Santos. “Now they can do the exams here, in their own community. The only time they need to leave town is when it’s time to deliver their baby.”

Two years ago, only 30 per cent of pregnant women in this area received prenatal examinations. With the help of mobile heath agents, that number has now jumped to 70 per cent. A nearby health centre, whose staff includes doctors, nurses and dentists, provides support to the mobile agents. 

“We improved the prenatal assistance,” notes Ms. Dos Santos. “Before, many children died. Now, after the programme was started, we are reducing the indicators for child mortality.” 

‘Seal of Approval’ for health coverage

The push for mobile health workers was part of a 2005 UNICEF initiative that rewards communities who meet tough standards for improving the lives of children. Titled the UNICEF Municipal Seal of Approval, the initiative has won the support of more than 1,000 cities and towns in Brazil’s Semi-Arid region, a vast area that has the country’s lowest social indicators and is home to more than 33 million people.

These communities have committed themselves to ensuring health, education and protection for more than 10 million boys and girls, including two-month-old Amanda. Her mother says the mobile health workers have also provided the community with peace of mind. 

“The programme has given us more security,” says Ms. Nogueira. “Today I need this health assistance, and so does my child. I also know that we will need it when future problems arise. It helps that it is in our own community.”


 

 

Video

UNICEF correspondent Thomas Nybo reports of the work mobile health units are doing to transform health care for families in rural Brazil.
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