Now that the contracts are signed, the scope of work solidified, and action plans verified, implementation of our integrated health project has begun. Although this is a health project and I’m new to the health sector, I’m currently tasked to support my partner organization, Action for Relief and Development (ARD), implement. Through this USAID funded health program, implementing partners are tasked to support the Ministry of Health by strengthening community-based networks to increase access and continuous utilization of government health services. The targeted health issues include HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis (TB), malaria, maternal, newborn, and child health (MNCH), reproductive health, family planning, and water, sanitation, and hygiene (WaSH).
Family Life School Approach
Although this task seems broad, our approach to achieving the objective is precise. Using Family Life Schools (FLS) we look to identify, mobilize, and refer patients in rural areas with these health challenges to linked health centers. A family life school consists of a group of women that have been joined together and targeted based on their proximity to one another and based on their pregnancy status or age of youngest child. As the base of the family and the most at risk to health challenges, pregnant women are the key target population. By forming groups of expecting or new mothers in rural villages we are able to work with them as a group to address their pressing needs and health challenges. Additionally, by working as a group, these women are able to learn together and from one another as we host a wide variety of health education sessions addressing the targeted health issues of the project.
Last week in the field we worked to create and solidify three family life schools in three different villages. Identifying pregnant women and mothers with newborns in remote villages seemed to me like a daunting task since we had no knowledge of our surroundings, but it proved to be easy with the help of Village Health Teams (VHTs). A VHT is a member of a rural community who works voluntarily with a health center to provide health education and medical assistance to their community members. Although they are not medical professionals, their core competency is their knowledge and the trust of their community members. By utilizing the core competencies of the VHTs, we were able to create three family life schools consisting of more than 40 women each in just two days. In addition to the VHT identifying our key target population and mobilizing them for group formation, they will also be the family life school instructor responsible for educating and referring their community members to program linked health facilities. In essence, we train the VHTs and they train their communities.
At each family life school entry meeting, our team met with the newly formed group to give the women an overview of what they can expect from us over the course of the year. Our goal was to share with them the knowledge they will soon gain to motivate strong attendance to trainings and group adherence. Not only will these women receive various health topic trainings, but they will also receive tools, resources, and trainings in ARDs core competency, economic empowerment. These groups will be more than educational cohorts, they will also be Village Savings and Loans Associations (VSLAs) with supplemental income as we teach them about savings and investment, income generating activities (IGAs), fuel efficient cook stoves, and kitchen gardens.
Through this targeted group approach, mothers will gain the knowledge and skills required to raise healthy families along with supplemental income and savings to manage health emergencies as they arise.
Health Center Capacity Assessment
Forming the family life schools through a targeted approach is our method for identifying, mobilizing, and referring women to health facilities to fulfill our objective to increase access and utilization of government health services, but we also need to ensure continued utilization. This part requires us to confirm health facilities linked to various family life schools have the resources required to perform their tasks. While visiting newly formed family life schools in the field, we also spent considerable time reviewing the records of the linked health facilities and listening to the challenges they have. By doing a capacity assessment at each of the linked health facilities we are now able to advocate with them to receive the resources and training required to properly fulfill their tasks. We look monitor these health centers to see if obtaining resources and training will create positive health care service experiences for their community members to subsequently ensure continuous utilization.
With 3 of our targeted 96 family life schools securely established we have plenty of work ahead of us. As new groups in different geographic locations are formed we will also focus on supporting VHTs to provide weekly trainings and referring community members to linked health facilities when required.