Female Community Infulencers Saving Lives in Somalia
The rates of maternal death and infant mortality in Somalia are among the highest in the world. To help combat this, Trócaire is working with local partners in Somalia on a new initiative which sees women supporting other women in their community to ensure everyone is accessing the vital health services they need. Bishara Adan Hilowle, aged 30, lives in a small village in Luuq district in the south-west of Somalia. She is a mother of nine but sadly has lost three of her children to childhood illnesses. Despite living 3km away, she had never visited her local health centre. Dangerously, all of her children were delivered at home and they had no access to vaccinations. Unfortunately this is all too common in Somalia. In Bishara’s village, she lives in severe poverty and like her children, she has never received any education. Her husband works away everyday as a labourer and so she has no one else to look after her other children when one is ill and needs medical care. As well as finding it difficult to travel there, women like Bishara are wary and unsure about going to hospital. In Luuq district, a new initiative aims to change this. Female Community Influencers (FCIs) visit women in their own homes to offer health education, and to encourage women to visit a nearby health facility when necessary. Like Bishara, many women need more than one visit to convince them to attend. Amina, one of the FCIs, says that it is vital that they do not give up on the women and they continue to visit them until the family are accessing the care they need. “We understand that a behaviour cannot be changed in one sitting,” she said. “But we are trained to be persistent and follow up with mothers like Bishara until they visit the health facility. In some cases, we can even escort them there. We are proud to be able to support women in our community and help them to make healthy decisions.” It took three visits to Bishara, and the use of Trócaire’s field ambulance to ensure she visited the hospital, but she was very happy and grateful when she did. “I never thought it was this easy to get services at the facility,” said Bishara. Her newborn baby was vaccinated against TB and Polio, and one of her older children needed vitamin A as well as treatment for a skin condition that had affected his head. “Thank you to these women who never gave up on me. They gave me this knowledge so that I was able to get my child protection against these diseases.” As Bishara now knows how to now access the services, she no longer needs the use of Trócaire’s ambulance and is able to make her own way there. “I will make sure my children will finish their vaccination schedules,” she added. A decision that will possibly save their lives. Female Community Influencers’ Support In just one month, the two local FCIs, Amina and Kafio, have visited 200 households, referring 23 women to the health facility, with all but one having now accessed the necessary services. “We are very proud of the positive changes we have brought within a month,” says Kafio. “We have earned the respect of the community and we are now known as the Health Teachers.” Trócaire has partnered with Population Services International (PSI) to pilot this ‘Mother to Mother’ project across a number of districts in Somalia and it has been very effective. In just two months, the programme has: Reached 5,106 women and children Referred 1,388 of these to various reproductive, maternal, newborn and child health (RMNCH) services, where already over 65% have accessed the services The project is part of PSI’s Somali Advocates for Health and Nutrition (SAHAN), supported by UK’s Department for International Development, DFID.