|© UNICEF Niger/2007/ Barger|
|Mourja Abou, 37, cradles her 10-month-old son as he is being cared for at a community health post in Dama Village, Niger.|
by Marlene Barger
MADAROUNFA, Niger, 25 September 2007 – When Mourja Abou’s ten-month-old son Nouhou fell ill two months ago, the mother of six knew exactly what to do. She used sugar, salt and clean water to prepare an oral rehydration solution for her son. She continued to breastfeed him and added solid foods as he began to feel better.
“Then Nouhou developed a fever,” Ms. Abou, 37, recalls, “so I brought him to the health post.”
At the post, it was discovered that Nouhou had malaria. Because of Ms. Abou’s quick response and access to community health care, her child’s illness was cut short.
Volunteers encourage women
Ms. Abou knew how to handle the situation because she volunteers as a community health worker. In 2005, her village of Dama in Niger’s Madarounfa District selected her, along with 11 other women, to receive UNICEF-sponsored health training.
“I go from compound to compound encouraging women to practice good hygiene and take their children to the health post for treatment before they become seriously ill,” explains Ms. Abou. “If children have diarrhoea, I give them an oral rehydration solution.”
Ms. Abou is also a member of a ‘growth promotion team’ in her village. Every month, the team monitors the health and weight of children under five. They advise mothers on exclusive breastfeeding, age-appropriate feeding practices and adequate nutrition. When the team identifies malnourished children, they are referred to the nearest feeding centre.
Breaking down barriers
Niger’s Government has been breaking down barriers to health care. In a country where 62 per cent of the population lives on less than $1 a day, the government recently made health care free to all children under five.
UNICEF and its partners have also had remarkable success empowering local communities in the Madarounfa District to improve children’s health and increase access to health services. Partnering with non-governmental organizations, UNICEF supports nearly 1,000 feeding centres nationwide.
Before Dama’s health post was built 2003, villagers had to walk more than two hours to the nearest health centre. Now, 2,000 health posts are being built in under-served communities around Niger.
“Sick children are brought for treatment earlier in the illness,” says community health worker Sadé Garba. “In the past, I saw 50 to 60 children per month. But in July, I treated more than 200 children.”
With these community supports in place, families can better weather the impact that poverty can have on health. Children like Nouhou can receive early treatment and potential crises will simply never happen.
Gaelle Bausson contributed to this story.