Bicycles for Village Health Workers in rural Zimbabwe: modest, economical, life saving
By Richard Nyamanhindi
Last week, Mwaita Mandingaisa, aged, 52 was called to visit an elderly woman suffering from acute watery diarrhea. After examining the patient, Mwaita suspected a bacterial infection and administered an antibiotic. Thankfully, the woman responded well to the prescription and is now in good health.
Mandingaisa is one of the many Village Health Workers trained by the Ministry of Health and Child Care with support from UNICEF in Zimbabwe’s Matebeleland North Province who volunteers their time to visit mothers and babies in their communities, spreading messages in disease prevention and checking up on their health and wellbeing.
Village Health Workers such are part of the lifeblood of the health system in Zimbabwe, empowering families to strengthen their own health through preventative measures. They are the umbilical cord between rural communities and local health services.
Since the beginning of 2013, UNICEF has been providing more than 17,000 bicycles to Village Health Workers in Zimbabwe to enable them reach more people in need of their services.
Mwaita is now able to reach patients quickly and either treats their illness or refers them, and arranges transport, to a clinic several kilometres away, or in more severe cases to the hospital in Binga, which takes several hours due to difficult roads.
“With the bicycles that we have received from UNICEF we are now able to cover a lot of ground in a single day,” said Mwaita. “We have a shortage of community Village Health Workers here and so some of us are operating in more than one village. We are now able to travel to all villages in time.”
The bicycles were requested by the Village Health Workers, whose services are in high demand in most rural areas. Mwaita, for example, is a subsistence farmer, whose main job is to provide for her large and growing family of twelve. The bicycle not only allows her to get to sick patients quickly but also to return to her fields and fend for her family.
Mwaita visits approximately fifty patients per week, many of whom she can treat with the drug supply that the nearby clinic regularly replenishes.
Mwaita’s training also enables her to recognize signs of serious or complicated illnesses, which require sophisticated treatment in clinics or hospitals. Mwaita is instrumental in arranging transportation for patients who need further medical attention.
“I have one message about health for my village. Take care of your body, wash your hands often, keep your clothing clean, be careful when you prepare food, and keep your water supply clean,” said Mwaita.
Mwaita is well known and respected in her village. “The community appreciates it so much and I like doing it because I know I am making a difference,” Mwaita said about her contribution. The geographical isolation of Siabuwa means that community health workers are at times the only available source of medical treatment, particularly during the rainy season when flash floods make roads impassable.
Mwaita is one of many volunteers who are strengthening their communities by serving others. Committed individuals, like Mwaita, at the grassroots level, make the government and UNICEF’s focus on a sustainable approach to development possible.