In Yalwa, a resident ‘doctor’
With support from the EU, UNICEF is reducing infant mortality rates in Bauchi communities with a community health volunteer programme
Rabiu Umar Bayaro earns a living in Yalwa, Bauchi State, as a blacksmith. Under a makeshift shed outside his home in the north-eastern Nigerian state, the 35-year-old builds and repairs simple farming and construction tools for community members. But inside his modest home sits a box overflowing with antimalarial and diarrhea medications.
Bayaro, the local blacksmith, is also a UNICEF-supported medical corps trained in the management and referral of common diseases in young children.
“I have been a corps member since 2017, when I was trained by UNICEF to identify malaria and diarrhea cases in my community,” said Bayaro. “I was provided drugs and a respiratory timer, which helps to know if a child is in distress. Through a rapid diagnostic test, I can quickly determine if a child has malaria and prescribe drugs. I also refer children with persistent symptoms to the nearest primary health centres.”
Bayaro is one of 1,200 integrated community case management corps established by UNICEF and the Bauchi State Primary Healthcare Development Agency in hard-to-reach communities. With funding from the European Union such corps provide first-line medical care for malaria, cough and diarrhea for children under five years old.
According to the World Health Organization, Nigeria had the highest under-5 death rate in the world in 2019, with most deaths due to preventable and manageable illnesses, like malaria and diarrhea. The EU-UNICEF project is reducing that number.
Corps members are people who live in remote areas who have earned the trust of their community members, who select them for the unpaid position. They receive training in case identification and management and are provided with medical boxes containing essential drugs and simple test kits. They are then attached to 120 health facilities and 120 supervisors who pay regular visits to the corps in their localities.
“The number of patients I see every day varies,” said Bayaro. “Sometimes I see as many as three children a day, and sometimes seven children in a week. Diarrhea and malaria cases are common among children here in Yalwa. I stabilise them with antimalarial or zinc tablets, and I provide them with oral rehydration fluid. But I don’t manage children less than six months old. They are taken to the nearest health centre for treatment.”
Yalwa resident Kaltume Isa said her daughter Fatima recently benefited from Bayaro’s services. “My daughter was feverish yesterday, so I brought her to him. He gave her some drugs after conducting a test. Now she is back on her feet,’’ said Isa.
Though he misses out on working hours by attending to sick children without remuneration, Bayaro is happy to support his community.
“The government cannot do everything. I am sacrificing my time, but I am happy to help my people,” he said. “It is a good feeling watching a sick child bounce back to health and know that I had an important role to play.”