In recognition of World Health Worker week (1-7 April), mothers2mothers (m2m) caught up with a couple of the community health workers we employ as Mentor Mothers to find out the impact they are having in the health facilities and communities where they work.
Today we meet Wilbroda Awour Akuro, a former m2m client, now employed as a Community Mentor Mother in Nairobi, Kenya. Wilbroda, along five other Community Mentor Mothers, go door-to-door in the impoverished communities surrounding the Mathare North Health Centre, addressing the health needs of entire families. They focus on three areas—prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV (PMTCT), reproductive maternal newborn and child health (RMNCH), and early childhood development (ECD)—supporting families to visit the health centre for medical services, providing ongoing education, and following up to make sure they remain on treatment and are retained in care. Wilbroda says she works to ensure “nobody is left out.”
Why are healthcare workers like yourself important to the community where you work?
We help more individuals access healthcare. We work hand in hand with our fellow m2m Mentor Mothers stationed at the health facility. They introduce us to their clients in the community so we can follow up with them. And when we meet women and families in the community who need medical services, we connect them to a Mentor Mother at the health centre. We have become a big family. So much so that if our clients notice a neighbour is having an issue, they call us and ask us to support them.
One of the things that helped us form such a strong bond with our clients is that every Mentor Mother and Community Mentor Mother has a very powerful story related to HIV, each story is unique. I overcame stigma and discrimination in my own family after testing HIV-positive when pregnant. We share our stories with our clients. If a client is not convinced, then another Mentor Mother will talk to them and share her story.
Meeting a group of beautiful and strong women who are able to use their own experiences to educate others, helps to empower other women and the community as a whole. And through this support, they are able to disclose their status and remain on medication, which were challenges when we started working in this community.
We also encourage men to test for HIV. Some we are able to convince to go to the health facility for a test. For those who do not want to go, we refer them to counsellors who go to the household to do the testing.
What work do you do on early childhood development (ECD)?
We help our clients to have HIV-free children and then we also work to make sure those children thrive! We are all trained to include ECD in our services. One part of this is to hold playgroups with our clients. When children come, we have a variety of toys for them. While they are playing, their parents are taught about the holistic development of a child, positive discipline, nutrition, and how to make toys to stimulate their child with materials available in their home. At the same time, the parents learn about HIV and AIDS, and other health issues.
Why does ECD benefit this community?
The parents I work with often take their children to daycare centres. There is one caretaker who looks after many children and there are no toys to play with. There is lack of proper hygiene there and children can develop diarrhea. I teach the parents about nutrition and hygiene, and about stimulating a child so they can reach their developmental milestones. The parents learn how important it is to play with their children after work to help their development.
What are the challenges that make it difficult for your clients to access medical care, and how do you and your fellow Mentor Mothers help them do so?
It is hard for them to access healthcare and go to the health centre because they are casual workers, so do not have a set work schedule. They are rarely home during the day. So it is important for us to meet them at their homes, no matter what time, in order to educate them about the importance of testing for HIV and disclosing their status, and support them to access medical care.
Do you get any feedback from the doctors, nurses, or other health staff about the impact Mentor Mothers are having there?
The Mentor Mothers at the health facility are very well known by the medical staff, they also recognise the work we are doing in the community. For example, there are still mothers who come to the health facilities to deliver their babies without getting any medical care while pregnant, which is difficult for the doctors and nurses. But, the Community Mentor Mothers have been able to reach many of these women during their pregnancies and talk to them about the importance of getting medical care while they are pregnant in order to reduce complications during birth. This is just one way in which doctors and nurses tell us we assist them.
What message would you like share this World Health Workers Week?
I want people to know that community health workers, and health workers generally, often go above and beyond their job to make sure their clients get the medical services they need. For instance, we frequently work long hours because we are passionate about what we do. We want more clients to come to the health facility for services. When they do, we follow up to make sure they stay on their treatment and are retained in care so they can live healthy lives.
I also want to let people know healthcare workers are the friendliest people they can ever meet. When our clients go back to the health facility, they never go back to feeling alone. There are Mentor Mothers to greet and guide them through accessing services. And if the client is HIV-positive, these Mentor Mothers have walked in their shoes, as they too are living with HIV.
Sharing our own stories is so important to give people strength to get medical care. If I share my story of living with HIV today, it will build one person up, and that person will be able to strengthen another person. We make a chain, and by sharing our stories, the links in that chain become stronger.