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Community health workers save lives

Health experts are calling on government to pay attention to community health workers (CHWs) who if linked with basic improvement in facility care can lead to better health indicators in rural settings.

The call was made at a breakfast symposium organised by Makerere University School of Public Health (SPH) last week.

In Uganda, of the 1.3 million babies born every year, 45.000 die within the first month of their birthday. Globally, 3.8 million babies die every year, many of these in Sub-Saharan Africa.

These deaths occur despite existing simple and affordable interventions that can reduce newborn deaths. Just encouraging mothers to use the kangaroo care method for premature babies can save many babies as well as exclusive breastfeeding which can help prevent infections in babies.

Dr Elizabeth Ekirapa said that research done by School of Public Health in Iganga and Mayuge districts shows that CHWs can save 30% of newborn babies from neonatal deaths.

These CHWs help to register women and encourage them to go for antenatal care and also monitor the progress of newborns at least the first week after returning home. Ekirapa said that if equipped with necessary skills of recognising danger signs, these CHWs can then refer the mother to a hospital in case of danger.

Some of the causes of deaths among children in Uganda include diarrhoea, infections, and preterm complications which caused at least 81% of neonatal deaths.

Dr Anthony Mbonye said interventions to save a baby’s life should start with antenatal care where a mother is given folic acid to boost her blood level and those of the unborn baby. During antenatal care (ANC) the mother is also given a tetanus injection and check for HIV.

He says immediate attention during labour can also prevent death if the mother is given immediate care. When the baby is born, Dr Mbonye says, it takes a strong skilled team to immediately resuscitate the baby if it is not breathing and also prevent infection.

During post-partum care, this is where the CHW comes in to encourage mothers to exclusively breastfeed for at least six months and also help the mother to care for the baby.

In a the study by SPH in Kayunga ANC visits increased to 70% from 31% with the encouragement of  CHWs and more mothers delivered in a health facility with the intervention of the community workers.

smwesigye@observer.ug

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