By Lynn Kabaka
In Manyenyoni, Kitui Central, we meet a group of dedicated community health volunteers working towards enhancing access to health services. Each member has a unique story.
Their determination and selflessness are evidenced by their willingness to assemble upon the request of the area Sub-County AIDS Coordinator who also doubles up as the public health officer.
In this group, we can’t help but notice how knowledgeable the group is on health matters and the great number of women community health workers compared to men. Out of 20 women present, there are only three men; one older man and the other two are youths.
After the health dialogue with community health volunteers, we are curious about how men volunteers fare in this space, mostly because their main clients are pregnant women and children. Mr. Kitonga Kimanzi, an older man, happily admits that men have been well received.
“When I notice a woman is pregnant, my target is always to approach the man of the family. I introduce myself, explain what I do and then request him to allow me to discuss antenatal care with the wife.”
The meetings are always done at the family home in a very official manner. Many view them as health officials to some extent, referring to them as “daktari”.
“At a client’s home, it is strictly business. We cannot drink or eat; the only exception is for a glass of water In case you are thirsty. All meetings are done outside the house. This association has built confidence in a way that the men are the ones who help us get the women to attend clinics and meetings.”
A good relationship between men community health volunteers and family men has also greatly increased visits to antenatal clinics, thereby arresting any challenge or disease at an early stage. Mother-to-child HIV transmission has also significantly reduced in the area.
“Of course, sometimes these women might hide things like consistency in attending antenatal clinic among other health-related issues from us, but men would not. The more reason many women are attending clinics now without fail.”
He contends that the most responsive men are those of reproductive age. “The younger ones have no problem. They are ready to learn and help where they can. All one needs to do is present the facts to them and explain their role in ensuring the wellbeing of both mother and child and how it’s crucial for them to be part of the journey.”
Some men have been convinced to join and serve as community health volunteers. This is a step in the right direction because of the mutual respect amongst men. Involving men helps in expanding health services at the community level. “I met the two young men you see here today in the line of duty and later introduced them to community health voluntary work. Being beneficiaries of such services, they are now at the frontline transforming lives.”
Community health workers engage the community at various levels; level 1 entails referrals and counselling, level 2 is a dispensary, and level three is at the health centre.
These volunteers are quickly becoming strong anchors to the provision of health services because of the trust accorded to them.
“Women are more aware of the importance of attending antenatal and post-natal clinics, a move that has translated to a decrease in child and maternal mortality and reduced mother-to-child HIV infection,” says Hellen Kituku, the Sub-County AIDS Coordinator.
Could having more men serving as community health volunteers be the key to getting others to seek healthcare services? This remains to be seen, but it is obvious that these men are making a difference in community-level healthcare service offering in their small unique ways.
Through acts of such brave men like Kitonga, children, women, and communities have had an opportunity to live a productive life free of diseases.
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