Bicycle for life initiative – bringing health care to the people
By Tapuwa Loreen Mutseyekwa
Seke; 26 March 2012 – As a little girl growing up in Seke rural district, on the outskirts of Harare, Florence Shonhiwa (49 years) took every opportunity she could to steal her father’s bicycle and equip herself with the skills of cycling. Little did Florence know that today, this invaluable self-taught skill would prove beneficial to households in her remote community.
As one of the 17 village health workers enlisted to support women and children at community and household level with basic health care support, today a ride on her bicycle helps ensure a wider coverage of households and a more effective response to emergency medical calls.
“I make daily visits to families who do not always find it easy to visit the health facilities.” says the shy looking mother of one. “Through my visits, I have earned a lot of friends who are all now drawn to me for health information and guidance. This makes me realise that I am playing an important role in my community.”
Countrywide, Zimbabwe’s women and children continue to succumb to preventable and treatable ailments as they fail to present to health care facilities on time. Village health workers provide the much needed support for Zimbabwe’s health sector which has grappled with a myriad of challenges, including access. Daily 100 children under the age of five are dying largely due to preventable diseases while at least 8 women are dying every day while giving life.
The Village Health Workers programme has historically formed an impressive support base for health facilities in Zimbabwe’s rural communities. Their strategic positioning within the community provides an ideal referral point as they offer families with basic hygiene messages, motivate mothers to book their pregnancies early, provide post natal support and encourage that every child receives their routine immunisation. Today the Village Health Workers programme is being strengthened to become a critical pivotal point of the community health care services and an essential part of the country’s efforts in meeting the health related MDGs 4, 5 and 6.
Bicycles provide these dedicated cadres with an efficient and appropriate means to extend their reach to the community with desired health promotion and disease prevention messages.
“There are 59 households which I manage,” says Florence, who keeps a detailed record of all the homes she visits. “Before I got the bicycle, I would sometimes walk up to 15km to reach the furthest household. The bicycles help ensure that I cover more households in the day.”
Throughout Zimbabwe, communities in all 65 districts have selected more than 20 000 village health workers to form the basis for the village health worker programme. With technical and financial support from the Government of Japan, Canadian Natcom and other partners, these selfless volunteers are gradually being equipped with medical kits and bicycles to visit communities and feedback to the clinics on a monthly basis. Furthermore, Florence her peers will continue to receive training on how to administer treatment for some of the minor ailments which they identify during their visit and refer further to the main health facility.
“The Village Health Worker programme forms the basis of Zimbabwe’s impressive basic health care programme in Zimbabwe” says UNICEF Representative, Dr. Peter Salama, “It is with continued support to the programme that we can once again build a robust system which can restore basic health care needs from community level, primary level up to the tertiary level of care.”
Indeed it is all dedication and selfless sacrifice which spurs Florence and her peers on. The meagre $14 stipend she receives for this effort would never match the level of effort and commitment these men and women put to promoting the health of their community peers.