My daughter was convulsing, the dispensary had been closed

Samson Juma Okoth- a father who lost seven children to malaria in Homa Bay county.

When Everlyn Akinyi Onyango’s three-year-old daughter became feverish and started convulsing one night, she feared for the worst as the nearest dispensary had been closed.

Without any means of transport to Alupe Hospital, the mother trekked six kilometres to alert a health volunteer for quick intervention.

The volunteer tested and diagnosed baby Peace with acute malaria and put her on treatment.

“I am happy my baby’s life was saved by the village ‘doctor’,” said Akinyi, a casual labourer from Asiriam B village, Teso South in Busia County.

The health volunteer continued reviewing Peace until she recovered.

Further, she advised Akinyi’s family on malaria prevention measures such as sleeping under a treated mosquito net, clearing bushes and draining water to prevent the breeding of mosquitoes.

Akinyi’s case mirrors the role played by community health volunteers, who have strengthened the fight against malaria in the worst-hit Western and Nyanza regions.

As per the World Health Organisation, community case management via community health volunteers provide prompt treatment for fever cases within 24 hours, thus helping reduce infections and deaths.

Scholastic Okwara, is among volunteers who oversee more than 100 households in Asiriam B village, in Teso South.

Okwara tests symptomatic patients, and those who test positive are given antimalarial drugs, while acute cases are referred for specialised care.

“I walk door-to-door, with a focus on children and pregnant women who are at high risk of being infected with malaria,” explained Okwara listing malaria as the leading cause of death in the sub-county, with increased cases during the rains.

Okwara also inspects malaria breeding grounds to ensure stagnant water is drained and bushes cleared besides encouraging the uptake of malaria vaccine (RTS, S/AS01), administered alongside the childhood immunization program.

“I have witnessed children die of malaria, deaths that left me scarred. I am grateful the vaccine will save lives,” she said.

Busia County malaria coordinator Dr Oluoch Onyango said community health volunteers have changed malaria indicators.

And though Busia leads in malaria burden nationally, at 39 per cent, there is a gradual decrease, through the use of community health volunteers, according to Dr Onyango.

As per health records, at least 2,000 to 3,000 people are tested and treated for malaria at the community level, with each volunteer treating an average of 100 people, annually.

In the last five years, CHVs from 105 Community Health Units have tested and treated 301,614 malaria cases at the household level.

“Our data analysis reveals that 36 per cent of all malaria cases are treated at the community level, cases handled by community health volunteers,” added the malaria coordinator.

Training of community health volunteers is done by the county government, supported by Global Fund, and Amref Health Africa.

“Through community health volunteers, patients access medication on time, and there is low defaulting due to follow-ups,” said Dr Onyango, adding that their main challenge is the shortage of testing kits and antimalarial drugs.

“At times, we have patients in need of treatment, but we have no medicine to give them, yet this is a malaria-endemic zone,” said Fredrick Kokonyo, community health volunteer in Mungachi, Nambale Sub-County, Busia.

Elsewhere in Homa Bay, the department of health has trained 3,600 health volunteers in partnership with the Global Fund and Amref Health Africa.

Homa Bay County malaria coordinator, Robert Bonyo, said community health volunteers also identify gaps in health care systems by issuing alerts on shortage of antimalarial drugs and testing kits.

“They play a key role in primary healthcare and have continued to ensure smooth service flow and access by locals,” he says.

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