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In Namibia, reaching rural communities with good health practices

By Tapuwa Loreen Mutseyekwa

A Health Extension Worker in Namibia, recently graduated from a UNICEF-supported programme, helps to provide much-needed health support and advice to families with little access to medical care.  

OSHANA, Namibia, 14 May 2015 – Neither the loud music nor the sight of his peers catching up on gossip can detract Abner Shivute from his daily mission. While men his age are making merry and relaxing at the shebeens (local dancing and drinking establishments), Abner stands out as a conspicuous lone figure.

© UNICEF Namibia/2015/Mutseyekwa
Health Extension Worker Abner Shivute braves the hot Namibian sun to reach out and encourage communities to adopt positive attitudes to health.

Six months ago, he took up training to become a certified Health Extension Worker, and now he is among the first graduates deployed in villages throughout Oshana Region, empowered to deliver health services in a community where the needs are plenty but health facilities remain scarce.

Abner covers long stretches on foot to bring health information and services closer to the people, and he strives to make a positive difference in his community of Onduru Village, raising awareness about health issues as well as treating minor ailments.

“Onduru Village is situated about 30 kilometres from the nearest clinic,” Abner says. “This makes it difficult for people to easily access health care.”

He also explains that the cost of public transport to clinics is prohibitive for people from this community of subsistence farmers.

Changing behaviour

The Health Extension Worker programme was launched in Namibia in 2012. With the financial support of Teck Resources, UNICEF Canada and the US Centers for Disease Control, UNICEF has supported the Government of Namibia to train and deploy more than 1,500 Health Extension Workers in 11 regions. Their role is to increase knowledge, raise awareness and shift attitudes related to the prevention, promotion, treatment and rehabilitation of common health conditions. Other partners supporting the Government-led programme include the World Health Organization and the US Agency for International Development.

© UNICEF Namibia/2015/Mutseyekwa
Abner provides health information to Fransin Neema, who is expecting a child.

In a country where, according to the Namibian Demographic and Health Survey of 2013, only 59 per cent of children under 5 with fever and 64 per cent of children under age 5 with diarrhoea are being taken to a health facility or provider, the programme is crucial to changing behaviour among families, women and children and promoting good health practices.

“The Health Extension Workers have taken up the important role of being health surveillance agents in our communities,” says Mr. Sakaria Taapopi, Regional Health Director for Oshana. “They are mindful of disease prevalence in their communities and can connect with the health facilities to ensure relevant support is given to prevent disease spreads, and also to give curative support.”

Knowledge and passion

Armed with newfound knowledge and the passion to make a difference, Abner visits at least four households a day to give support to pregnant mothers, mothers with newborn babies, and people with minor ailments, as well as to give guidance on how people can access social support services such as welfare grants.

Amalia Nakwinda, 20, is one of the people who have benefitted from the visits from Health Extension Workers. As a young mother staying with her elderly grandmother, the support she has received has ensured that her son, Vicki, remains in good health. Today, 1-year-old Vicki is up to date with his immunization, and his growth chart has remained consistently positive. The energy, vivaciousness and agility with which he explores and navigates his surroundings is testimony to his good physical and mental well-being.

© UNICEF Namibia/2015/Mutseyekwa
One-year-old Vicki gets weighed during one of his regular checkups.

“The Health Extension Workers have become an essential part of health service delivery in communities and will be the force behind moving towards universal health coverage in Namibia,” says UNICEF Namibia Representative Ms. Micaela Marques De Sousa, who recognizes the impact that Abner and his colleagues have had in improving use of maternal, newborn and child health services in the country.

Abner’s confidence, professionalism and passion are plain to see. He checks on the general well-being of Amalia and her son using a set of questions to detect any danger signs.  Having noted they are still in good health, he takes time to illustrate the signs that the mother must always look out for to ensure continued good health for herself and the baby. He is equally meticulous with each visit, spending more than 45 minutes in discussion to be sure that information has been well received and to give support where there are any challenges.

At the end of a long day, Abner returns home to his wife and four children. He is happy with the help he has given to the community, and also happy that his family is benefiting from the knowledge and skills he now holds as a Health Extension Worker.



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