Village Health Workers Champion the Fight against COVID-19 in Zimbabwe
“It is my responsibility to lead by example and educate mothers on how they should protect themselves and their families from contracting coronavirus.” Esnati says this as she washes her hands at a tippy tap (a hand-made handwashing facility) before opening the regular Mothers Support Group meeting.
Esnati affectionately known as ‘Mbuya Utsanana’ in her community, is a Village Health Worker (VHW) in Nyaminyami district in Zimbabwe. She became a VHW 7 years ago and she has been training mothers of children under the age of 5 years on good hygiene practices and Infant and Young Child Feeding practices (IYCF) they should adopt to keep their children healthy.
She also helps nurses at the local Kasvisva clinic by collecting and reporting information on children’s health status regularly. The information helps nurses to respond to any cases of malnutrition in infants and young children. Once the VHW refers a child to the clinic, nurses carry out further health assessments and provide the child with appropriate life-saving treatment for malnutrition.
The mother of three is seen as a hygiene champion in her village. The coming of the COVID-19 pandemic has expanded Esnati’s roles in her community. She feels obligated to help her community fight the pandemic. Every week, she braves the sizzling sun and long distances to support the community on how they can prevent infection and protect themselves and their families from the novel Coronavirus.
WORKING IN THE COVID-19 ERA
Esnati had temporarily stopped conducting trainings due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Her Mothers Support Group consists of 25 mothers and she felt meeting with them would only pose infection risks to the mothers and their families as well as herself.
Fortunately, she is one of the 240 district Village Health Workers who were trained on what COVID-19 is, how it is transmitted and the preventative guidelines the community should follow to keep safe.The three day intensive training conducted in September, 2020 was facilitated by Ministry of Health and Child Care in collaboration with Save the Children, through funding from OFDA. Training of VHWs on COVID-19 is key as they interface with communities on a day to day basis hence they can share COVID-19 awareness messages to others.
Through support from the Ministry of Health and Child Care, Esnati’s confidence to educate others about the pandemic has been boosted. She also changed the group meeting patterns such as meeting in small numbers to ensure everyone remains safe.
“When COVID-19 came, I had to stop conducting meetings with mothers, but after the training, I felt well-equipped to resume meetings. Before COVID-19, I would meet with a group of 25 mothers once a month but now, I divided them into groups and I now conduct meetings every week so that I can cover all groups.’’Esnati alluded.
At the Mothers Support Group meeting point, every one washes their hands at the tippy tap or chigubhu gear. A tip tap is one of the devices the VHW has encouraged all mothers in her community to station and use in their homes to fight coronavirus. It is easy and affordable to make. One needs a clean plastic and transparent plastic container, two wooden sticks, which are dug into the ground and a string which works as a lever that one steps on to tilt the container to allow water to pour out.
“I have always encouraged mothers to practice good hygiene and due to the times we are living in, I strongly emphasise the importance of handwashing because that is the one of the easiest way to fight the virus. Yes, we have not heard any cases of infections in our village but we need to remain vigilant.”
Esnati carries a sanitizer which she got from the clinic and during the course of the meetings, she sanitizes her hands and all mother’s hands. During meetings mothers also maintain a social distance of two meters, wear masks and they do not have any contact with each other. They now conduct their meeting outside where there is vast air circulation.
SUPPORT GROUP MEETINGS BENEFIT THE COMMUNITY
Mothers Support Group meetings conducted by VHWs have not only benefitted mothers but the community at large. The VHWs have taken an active role in raising awareness on COVID-19 and mothers have adopted all they have been taught into their households. This means the health of the mothers and that of their families is protected.
Linia, a mother of two says, “Attending Mothers Support Group meetings has assisted my family, not only on my child’s health, but we get to learn about Coronavirus and what we should do to protect ourselves.”
“Our Village Health Worker taught us that the well-being of the family lies upon the mother, so I take to heart everything she teaches us. Some people do not believe that Coronavirus is real but my family and I believe it is there, based on what our VHW explained to us and what we hear on radio."
“I was taught how to make to make cloth face masks and I made some for my family as these are cheap and re-usable after washing. My homestead now has a tippy tap/chigubhu gear for washing hands, my husband helped me to install it, so, my family and visitors can wash hands anytime. I even taught my children that they should always wash their hands so that they don’t get sick.’’
Esnati is determined to see her community overcome COVID-19 and she continues to educate mothers who continue to receive the messages with both hands and have taken action in their homes. This is helping in influencing behaviour change within the community. Save the Children has supported COVID-19 trainings for 1400 Village Health Workers across its district of operation.