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Community workers take healthcare to the hardest-to-reach villages in Namibia

In September 2012, UNICEF released the 2012 Progress Report on Committing to Child Survival: A Promise Renewed. The report shows that the number of children dying before the age of 5 has drastically declined over the past two decades.

Click here for more information on A Promise Renewed.

By Judy Matjila

OPUWO, Namibia, 18 October 2012 - In its quest to ensure that no child die from preventable diseases, the Ministry of Health and Social Services of Namibia, with the support of UNICEF and development partners, has deployed 34 health extension workers as public service employees to extend healthcare and social welfare services from health facilities into the community.

UNICEF reports on the deployment of a cadre of health extension workers in a hard-to-reach part of Namibia.  Watch in RealPlayer


This initiative aims to bring services closer to the community and ensure equitable distribution of community- and household-centred healthcare services.

Accessing healthcare a challenge

In Namibia, child mortality decreased from 74 per 1,000 live births in 2000 to 42 per 1,000 live births in 2011, but the majority of these children die because they are not reached on time. 

Outreach services suffer as a result of a shortage of qualified staff and a lack of transport.

Geographical inaccessibility is also a major underlying cause of the situation, as most people in rural areas live at least 10 km from the nearest health facility.

Recently trained health extension worker Vemupomambo Tjivinda examines Uandjenguaije Tjiuharo’s 2-month-old baby Uateuondjara. Ms. Tjiuharo is from the nomadic Ovahimba community in a remote part of Namibia. The health workers serve as a vital link between health services and the community.

Bringing healthcare to the community

Opuwo is the capital of Kunene region. The region is sparsely populated. It has one of the toughest terrains – making it difficult to reach households with life-saving interventions for children. 

The deployment of this cadre of community workers into Kunene is a critical step in addressing the situation. The programme demonstrates the political will and commitment of Government to reach even the most-difficult-to-reach people.

The health extension workers have completed six months of training in health-related issues. They recently received their certificates at an official ceremony in Opuwo.

Speaking at the ceremony, Minister of Health and Social Services Dr. Richard Kamwi said, “[T]he establishment of the health extension workers initiative in Kunene would accelerate the promotion of health awareness and build local communities’ capacity for greater access, involvement and participation in primary healthcare interventions.” He said that the community workers would serve as a link between health facilities and communities and would also serve to increase the number of qualified health workers in the community.

Dr. Kamwi stressed that Namibia is committed to achieving internationally agreed health goals, including the Millennium Development Goals, by 2015.

Mr. Tjivinda gives medical advice and provides free medication such as polio drops or vitamin pills.

“This is the most cost-effective way through which we can avert many young children and women from dying of preventable causes everywhere in Namibia,” said UNICEF Representative in Namibia Micaela Marques De Sousa.

Support for the intervention

The health extension workers initiative has been made possible through the leadership of the Ministry of Health and Social Services, with technical and financial contribution from USAID, the FHI 360 C-Change project, the private sector (Teck Namibia Limited), UNICEF, WHO and other United Nations agencies.

USAID Health Office Director Melissa Jones said, “USAID is proud to be part of this innovative intervention that will save lives in Kunene region and exemplifies the efforts of the United States Government in actualizing its Global Health Initiative strategy in Namibia, which is to improve access for underserved and vulnerable populations.”



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