The little porch in the Luka Kebele health post is crowded with mothers carrying little babies. No one seems to prefer sitting inside as it is a very hot day. To the side of the health post under a tree shed some pregnant women sit and wait for their turn.
Wegayehu Abebayehu, the nurse, and her translator look quite busy. Wegayehu calls each woman in turn and checks their little yellow card first and then runs her pen across the columns in a big register book. After checking the records, she sucks out a vaccine from a bottle into a syringe and gives the shots to the little ones and to the mothers as appropriate. She then follows the recording in her book again. Before the mothers leave, she makes sure that they know what to do next.
Gurre with her son
It is approaching midday when Gurre Awuno arrives at the site carrying her five month old baby in a goat skin rucksack. She looks a bit tired. She must have travelled from far to get to the health post. She takes a glance around and sits in one corner. Soon, it is her baby’s turn. She turns her face away as the needle pierces into her little one’s soft skin. But her breast milk is enough to ease his pain.
Gurre knows the advantages of vaccination for her baby. She always brings him whenever there is an immunization campaign day in Luka. “I know that immunization can protect my child from diseases. We were taught about this,” she says.
On this day, a medical team co-organized by AMREF and the regional health bureau is conducting a monthly outreach program for the small village of Luka and the nearby areas in the South Omo district of Benatsemay. The team is comprised of nurses, a health extension worker, a community announcer, a translator and a program coordinator. Before the team’s arrival, the community was mobilized and informed about the campaign. Since many come from far, the team wastes no time. Whenever the nurse does follow ups on pregnant women, the health extension worker or the other nurse will vaccinate the women and children.
Gurre's son is immunized
Immunization of mothers and children, antenatal care, voluntary HIV/AIDS testing and counselling and PMTCT services for pregnant women are done at once. Children with acute malnutrition and other health problems are also examined and receive treatment. Other medical cases such as pneumonia, diarrhea, and skin diseases which do not need referrals are also treated.
This way, women who live far and have little access to health facilities can get better health care services in one place. The idea behind this outreach activity is simple. If women and children cannot come to health facilities why not take the service to them? It also has a great implication in decreasing maternal and child mortality and towards meeting the MDGs.
“Previously we used to go to a traditional attendant,” says Watto Warr, a mother of three who is currently expecting her fourth child. “Even when the baby was in the wrong position, we did not have a choice. But nurses here are assisting us now.” Watto was actually assisted by a male nurse. It seems that pregnant women in Luka are now showing a change in behavior towards getting assistance from male nurses.
Many mothers in pastoralist areas such as South Omo have very limited access to health facilities and awareness levels among community members are also low. Some local beliefs and practices have also placed further challenges on the health of women. Therefore, this type of clinical outreach program is very crucial for them.
“This outreach program has a great advantage for this community,” says Fitsum Melkamu a project assistant and the team coordinator working in the AMREF project. “In this monthly program, we not only immunize women and children, but the elderly also receive medical assistance. This is almost the only way for these communities to get medical care. That is why they are very eager to come on the campaign day.”
The team very often has to skip lunch and work all day long as people continue to seek their services.
Fitsum Melkamu, AMREF project assistant (kneeling on right) with the team
They also teach the community about different aspects of health. In the low lands of Benatsemay, malaria and waterborne diseases are rampant. The communities live quite far from the health facilities and many women and children suffer from immunizable illnesses. In this light, AMREF works in coordination with the local health bureaus to reduce maternal and child mortality. AMREF also builds the capacity of health professionals through different training sessions so that they can provide quality services. Moreover, AMREF provides transportation and pays per diems to the health officers and facilitators. No matter how inaccessible places may be, AMREF reaches remote communities to make sure those mothers and children receive their immunization on time.
AMREF is also concerned about the constraints of the local health systems in mobilizing logistics; hence its active engagement at the grassroots level to make sure that every mother and newborn gets the necessary vaccines.
Gurre’s son is now immunized and she is ready to leave. But before she leaves, she has to be certain of what to do next so she speaks to Wegayehu. She is determined that her son will have an education, but until then, she will make sure that he is growing into a healthy child.
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