Bentado’s Clever Plan September 10, 2015  by      

In a community where health misinformation is common, spreading the truth requires a lot of quick thinking and problem solving. And sometimes, quick thinking can save lives and prevent disease. Community Health Volunteers (CHVs) working with Carolina for Kibera can run into some tricky situations involving both of these.

Take, for instance, a recent encounter that CHV Bentado ran into when conducting a follow-up visit to the home of baby Ismael. Ismael was discharged from the hospital where he was born before getting the BCG vaccine, a vital vaccine given at birth to prevent tuberculosis. Usually the vaccine is only given on particular days of the week, and hospital staff encouraged Pauline, Ismael’s mother, to return on a day the vaccine was being distributed. However, that wasn’t so easy for Pauline, who believes for religious reasons that no one should be able to see her baby until he is one month old. Waiting a month would make it too late for the vaccine to be effective.

Upon learning that the baby had not gotten the vaccine, Bentado had to think on her feet to come up with a solution. Missing the vaccine was not an option. So Bentado devised a plan: swaddle the baby completely, only leaving space for the baby to breathe, and walk with Pauline to the Tabitha Medical Clinic to administer the vaccine. Bentado had also confirmed ahead of time that they would be attended to immediately upon arrival so that Pauline and Ismael would not have to spend a lot of time at the health facility. With this plan, Ismael got the important vaccine!

Like Pauline, many Kiberan women face barriers to getting their children healthcare. Some of them, like the one Pauline faced with Ismael, are traditional or religious in nature. Others are more social. For example, some women’s decisions about their children’s healthcare won’t be supported by their spouse. Women also often have condescending encounters with healthcare providers, which discourages them from making appointments in the future. CHVs like Bentado are working hard to provide accessible, accurate, and friendly service to women like Pauline.

Bentado sits with Pauline and Ismael in their home.

Bentado sits with Pauline and Ismael in their home.

One such service is through Care Groups, small groups of women who meet once a week to talk about their health and their children’s health. Pauline is enrolled in a Care Group and has received much more knowledge than she anticipated. Originally thinking that the group functioned more as a “new parent” class, she was surprised to discuss such a wide range of topics, including her own reproductive health, family planning methods, and how ante-natal doctor visits can bolster the health of the mother as well as that of the child.

Those lessons are what keep Bentado working as a Community Health Volunteer. “Teaching the community how to improve health and prevent illness by adopting healthy practices has been the best part of being a CHV,” she explains, “especially when you see a change in their behaviors. This really motivates us to do more.” She and her colleagues wouldn’t have it any other way. “The community is indeed in charge of their own health and development. We are in fact actively involved in taking care of our own health needs.”

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