During my summer work in Harar, Ethiopia, I have been fortunate to have been involved in many aspects of the Child Health and Mortality Prevention Surveillance (CHAMPS) project. Although my main project this summer was to work on data analysis, I found my most rewarding work to be going out into the rural areas of local districts and assisting the social sciences team in their efforts to understand the health behaviors of local people and health care services provided by their local workers.
For one of our visits, we went to speak with the health extension workers in a remote village over an hour away from Harar. In particular, we were interested in understanding the type of work they were responsible for and their relationship with the people in the community. I went into to field not really having any expectations, but I ended up learning a lot both about the people living in this community and about the importance of building trust.
When we arrived in the village, we were warmly welcomed by the health care staff there. We saw their small but very serene health center and even had the opportunity to go to one of the smaller health posts within one of the communities. This health post was responsible for screening for malnutrition in kids. We walked in and had the opportunity to speak with a couple of the health extension workers who conducted these health screenings. We watched as children were brought to them by their mothers and watched their assessment of the children’s condition. Although they did not have any medical equipment beyond a simple scale. They were able to triage and help many of these children. If a child came in and was found to be malnourished, they would give them a packet of emergency nutrition called plumpy nut. If the child then ate the plumpy nut and felt better, they knew that the child could be handled at their post and the family was sent home with additional plumpy nut to help correct the malnutrition. However, If a child at the plumpy nut but could not keep it down, they knew that the case was too complicated for their health post and would send the kid to the health center or even outside of the village.
We also had the opportunity to speak with many of the mothers who had brought in their children for these screenings. Many were very worried and had never had this happen to any of their other children. When we asked them what they thought caused this type of disease, many had no idea. It was clear that the community could benefit from some basic health education and the health extension workers informed us that they had began such sessions for the community. They mentioned that they discussed topics such as hygiene, sanitation, nutrition, and even family planning. We also asked some of the mothers of their interest in contraception and one in particular mentioned that she had spoken to her husband and they were planning to return to the post to start using contraception after her current pregnancy. From our discussions with the mothers, it was clear that they very much trusted the health extension workers at the health post and that working and supporting these workers to reach the community about different health topics may greatly benefit their people. This is just one example of the type of community work I was a part of this summer!