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Community health workers reach out to quake-affected families in Pakistan

© UNICEF Pakistan/Zaidi
Firdaus, 19, one of more than 3,000 community health workers trained by UNICEF in the Pakistan earthquake zone, chats with children after sharing hygiene and health tips with one of the 30 families under her charge.

By Bronwyn Curran

MUZAFFARABAD, Pakistan, 18 July 2006 – Firdaus, a 19-year old college student, entered the canvas-and-aluminium shelter of the Akhtar family in the ruins of Chela Bandi village, Pakistan-administered Kashmir.

“Are you using soap to wash your hands?” she asked.

Firdaus is one of the community-based outreach workers taking part in a UNICEF programme to bring health care and hygiene promotion to rural areas affected by the devastating October 2005 earthquake here.

Around 3,300 outreach workers have already been trained by UNICEF and local partners in first aid, health monitoring and the provision of essential health services. The workers have been provided with medical supplies as well as data books to record health information.

Visible impact

Over the next two years, UNICEF plans to train approximately 4,000 more community-based health workers to work in tent villages and isolated areas in earthquake-ravaged parts of Pakistan-administered Kashmir and North West Frontier Province.

It is hoped that the trained workers will reach some 400,000 families – about 80 per cent of the families living in areas targeted by UNICEF’s two-year earthquake recovery plan.

Firdaus has already noticed the impact made by the new health workers. “I’ve seen the level of illness drop,” she said. “Before, there were many cases of diarrhoea and worms. Both problems are less frequent now.”

© UNICEF Pakistan/Zaidi
Community health worker Firdaus shares hygiene tips with Akhtar Bibi and her daughter Nusrat at their tent shelter in Chela Bandi, Pakistan-administered Kashmir.

‘Things are getting better’

There are 28 young women, all college students, monitoring families in Chela Bandi along with Firdaus. The students, who divide their days between morning classes and afternoon check-ups on the families, have themselves become empowered through their engagement with the community – an added benefit of the training program.

“I ask if anyone is sick and what type of sickness they have. I tell them about health and hygiene, like what kind of safety measures they should take to avoid diseases,” said Shaheen, 17. “They listen to me carefully and try to follow the instructions. It’s the first time they’re hearing these messages.”

Added Tehmina, 18: “Before the earthquake we had no idea about our people’s health status, what illnesses or diseases they had or what their health and hygiene practices were. Now we go to them, we give them information. Things are getting better.”

More awareness, better health

Firdaus says the increased awareness is making people healthier.

“People are learning what the causes of their illnesses are, whether it’s diarrhoea, worms or dysentery. They are becoming aware and they are changing their behaviours,” she noted.

UNICEF Health Officer Dr. Tamur Mueenuddin sees the community workers as the linchpin in bringing quality health care to people in rural and remote areas.

“Living in a remote village should no longer be a reason for people to miss out on proper treatment,” said Dr. Mueenuddin.



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