Community Health Workers

Community Health Workers

Community Health Workers Elma Clara Salas Roblero, Celmira López López and Ernestina López Pérez (left to right) attend a mental health training in Chiapas, Mexico. (Photo by Mary Schaad / Partners In Health)

Eliza Kazembe, left, talks with community health worker Grace Mgaiwa, who lives just down the road, and supported Kazembe with prenatal care, resources and education throughout her pregnancy. (Photo by PIH Malawi)

We hire and train community health workers to help patients overcome obstacles to health care.

People who live in poor, remote places face considerable obstacles receiving health care. The high cost of treatment and transportation, the time required to travel to the nearest health facilities, and the stigma associated with disease often make it difficult for patients to access necessary services.

For people living with chronic diseases like HIV and TB, these challenges make it hard to reliably access the medications they need to survive. For expecting and new mothers, these barriers often prevent pre- and post-natal checkups, important for the health of both the mother and child.

Our Response

For nearly three decades, PIH has hired and trained community health workers to help patients faced with these challenges receive care. Our 11,000 community health workers around the world visit patients at home, assess their health, and link them with clinics and hospitals.

In Haiti, where PIH’s community health worker program originated, they are called accompagnateurs to emphasize the importance of accompanying people in their journey through sickness and back to health.

Living in the communities where they work, community health workers are trusted and welcomed into patients’ homes to provide high-quality services for a wide range of health problems. They help ensure patients take their medications regularly, provide moral support to people as they fight to get better, and monitor for signs of complications. For people living with HIV or other chronic diseases, this support enables them to live longer and healthier lives.

Community health workers also make sure patients have food, housing, and safe water so that they recover and remain well. They lead education campaigns on topics such as mental health, sexually transmitted diseases, and palliative care, and empower community members to take charge of their own health.

This model of care has resulted in significant improvements to patient outcomes, linking remote communities to country health care systems, and has been replicated by governments and organizations around the world.

In Malawi and Liberia, PIH Canada is supporting the expansion of the community health worker program into a ‘household model’. Rather than focus on patients with specific diseases, community health workers make regular visits to all households and families in their catchment areas. This means more comprehensive screening, referral and follow-up, reduces stigma surrounding visits, and increases social connectedness within the communities.

Home visits in 2018

Day after day, PIH’s thousands of community health workers walk long distances to care for patients and their families in their own homes.

Village health worker Bonang Motlomelo visits a patient in rural Lesotho. Photo by Cecille Joan Avila / Partners In Health

Bonang Motlomelo (pictured above) has spent two decades fighting for quality health care in Lesotho, the tiny mountain kingdom in the center of South Africa.

As a former village health worker (VHW), Bonang looked after tuberculosis patients and cared for newborns in this impoverished nation, where people in remote areas must walk hours to reach the nearest clinic. Today, she oversees VHWs throughout 56 villages, guiding her team with a big smile and wisdom collected from years of caring for her neighbors.

One such neighbor is Malereko Lekhoesa, who’s living with HIV. Malereko says she considers Bonang a parent, after years of unflagging support and guidance from the PIH veteran and mother of three.

Bonang develops close, therapeutic relationships like these with her patients—and ensures that her VHWs do the same by focusing not only on physical health, but also on emotional wellbeing.

Under Bonang’s supervision, VHWs chat with patients about life and check in on a village’s food and water supply, all while answering questions about medication and accompanying patients to clinics.

The job is a grueling one—but it’s not uncommon to see Bonang and her VHWs regroup at the nearby health center, spontaneously breaking into song and laughter. 

Thanks to the generosity of our donors, VHWs are making their corner of the world a healthier place.

Help us support the critical work of community health workers so all patients in need, however remote, can have access to a community-based support system – saving lives from Lesotho and beyond.

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