Ethiopia, 3 April 2014: Health Extension Workers: Key to Reducing Malnutrition
By Mathew Newsome
Tena (meaning health in Amharic) Esubalew, 25, and Eneayehu Beyene, 27, are the heroines of Delma kebele as they have become the health confidants of the community. Delma Kebele (sub district), which is located in Machakel woreda (district) in the Amhara Region in northwest Ethiopia. Delma is a community 10 kilo meter from an asphalt road with a population of 4,733. As part of the EU funded Africa Nutrition Security Project (ANSP), UNICEF launched a community health programme (2012-2015) in 20 districts across three regions of Ethiopia to help the Government boost the nutritional status of children under two in communities like Delma where child malnutrition has been alarmingly high.
Key to the programme’s success has been the role of community Health Extension Workers (HEWs). From Delma, Tena and Eneayehu have received intensive training with the support from UNICEF on nutrition so they can effectively carry out health extension duties.
“It is clear to us that three years ago no-one in this community could identify if a child was malnourished or not, this problem has been recently solved through the programme’s awareness strengthening on nutrition,” says Eneayehu
Eneayehu and Tena spend most of their days walking between households in Delma, visiting young mothers in the community and engaging them about the importance of child nutrition. They are trained to identify mild and moderate malnutrition and also growth faltering – based on which they provide age-tailored counselling. Additionally, they can diagnose if a child has Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM) with or without complications. If a child is suffering from SAM with complications then the health extension workers will quickly have them referred to a health centre in the nearest town.
The health post where Tena and Eneayehu work is situated on top of a hill surrounded by open fields and grazing livestock. It is a busy hub frequented by the community’s young mothers, who are eager to learn about their children’s health status. The walls are plastered with graphs charting the health and development of the community’s under-five children. It is here that growth monitoring of all the community’s children under-two-years is conducted on a monthly basis and compared with World Health Organisation growth standards.
Yideneku Aynalem, 38, reaches up to a mud shelf in her hut and retrieves an illustrated booklet. “This is a very important document”, she says carefully opening the page to reveal a colourful chart. The HEWs have distributed the materials printed with the support of UNICEF throughout the community to enable lactating mothers to track their child’s weight. Yideneku points to a graph and traces with her finger a green upward curve signifying the trajectory of a healthy child’s development based on optimum height and weight measurements. She explains with a smile how her 10 month old child Barkelegn Walelign’s growth has started to correlate with the green line on the chart. “I have been given the knowledge and it is now my responsibility to keep putting this learning into action so that my child can remain strong and healthy”, she says. Yidenku’s child is one of 270 children under-two years of age that have benefited from the EU-UNICEF supported package of high impact interventions in Delma.
The community results are encouraging: the rate of underweight young children has reduced from six per cent to one per cent in two years. “At the start of the programme, six children in the village were diagnosed with Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM) – this year only two children suffered this extreme health condition”, says, Tena.
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