By Mary Taruvinga
VILLAGE Health workers in Masvingo province have proved to be the heroes of the health sector in rural households complimenting the work of nurses and doctors in the communities they serve.
They do most of the groundwork, making it easier for referral hospitals in their area while serving their neighbours and members of their communities.
However, sometimes they are placed at the bottom of the health system hierarchy as low-skilled volunteers, irrespective of their highly valued social status within communities.
During a media tour in Mwenezi and Chivi districts, organised by the government through the ministry of health in partnership with Unicef, it emerged that in some cases, village health workers risk losing their lives as they try to save that of children and women who in most cases fall prey to abuse of health rights.
Neshuro Mwenezi District hospital, Auguste Chikoti District nursing Officer (DNO) said village health workers have proved to be the backbone of health services in their area adding that more were needed to improve the situation.
He said they relate to the community and have a special relationship with villagers which has helped a lot.
“They are very key as an entry point of the community. They are responsible for all the activities I talked about which include vaccinations, HIV testing, and other things that happen in communities… nutrition gardens and services just to link the services of a health centre and the community. The village health workers are the entry point,” Chikoti said.
“Whatever is happening within the community is reported by the village health worker who really sees what is happening on the ground, for example, diarrhoea, cholera before action is taken.
“They also do malaria testing and treatment to minor cases as a first measure to save lives. There is a lot the village worker does,” said Chikoti.
Chikoti said each village health services about 100 households but more are needed.
“We have about 269 village health workers, a number far less to cater for the whole district. Certain wards such as Chingwizi are bigger than the others so we would need more in such areas. The response is encouraging,” said Chikote.
The village health workers service 18 wards in total.
Interviews have revealed that they brave all sorts of weather, cutting through mountains and crossing rivers to fulfil their voluntary work of delivering health services to villagers who at times fail to reach clinics and referral hospitals for treatment.
Village health workers who talked to NewZimbabwe.com said they will remain committed.
Thabitha Sorobhi Mavhiyagudo (54) of Chirimigwa Village under chief Neshuro in Mwenezi started volunteering in 1980 and has never looked back.
“I pledged to support my community and it breaks my heart to see them failing to get treatment when they need it and I am there to serve them,” she said.
Dorica Mavindidze of Bvuchete village in Chivi was almost killed while trying to serve children from a family which attends an apostolic sect but says she will not stop her voluntary work.
“I was chased with an axe but after engagements with the ministry of health, I still go there. I still guide them when it comes to health issues. I will not stop assisting them,” she said.
However, the village health workers said the main challenge in doing their work is mobility.
They requested the government and donors to give them bicycles so that they can reach every household they intend to visit without challenges.
“We were given bicycles in 2012 and now they are obsolete and broken to an extent that we cannot use them anymore. I cover five villages and some are away from my village. I would need to hike because I no longer have a bike and I find it difficult because money is already a challenge,” said Mavhiyagudo.
“I am walking only because I’m dedicated to this work. I volunteered in 1980 and will not look back. I don’t afford to sit back when the community needs me.
“Nevertheless, I am human and sometimes I get tired, if I get something to use we will move forward. Sometimes it will be raining, it will be cold and we don’t have raincoats, rain boots or backpacks,’ she said.
Unicef in partnership with the Ministry of Health and Child Care is currently holding a health heroes campaign which seeks to honour the village health workers recognising their role in and its impact in the communities they work in.
The Health ministry, UNICEF and partners said they will continue to work in close partnership to empower the frontline health workers – including the village health workers and the professional nurses at the local primary health facilities – to deliver basic health services to the people of Zimbabwe are entitled to.
Current and past partners in the health sector include the donors of the Health Resilience Fund – the European Union, Ireland, the United Kingdom and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance – as well as Australia, Canada, China, France, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, United States Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance, Eli Lilly Foundation and Rotary.