Supporting volunteers in Nepal who help make families healthier
In Nepal, the leaders in frontline health promotion are female community health volunteers (FCHVs). The community-based FCHV program began in the late 1980s and has become a widely respected (and replicated) initiative for health education and outreach in resource-limited settings. The responsibilities of FCHVs include:
- Assist health outreach programs by providing nutritional supplements, oral rehydration therapy, and help with vaccination clinics.
- Act as a bridge between community members and local health facilities by promoting the use of services and providing referrals.
- Improve community members’ knowledge of issues related to maternal and infant health by conducting educational sessions at Mothers Groups, and providing individual health check-ups and counseling.
Today, Nepal’s network of FCHVs numbers nearly 50,000. They provide a vital role in addressing poor maternal and infant health and have been credited with contributing to the declining rates of maternal and infant mortality in Nepal. However, as volunteers they have limited access to resources, their skill levels vary, and many are reaching retirement age.
Providing bicycles can facilitate home visits
Through our project Saving lives of mothers and children, HealthBridge is working with its local partner Interational Nepal Fellowship to improve the skills and strengthen the capacities of 132 FCHVs in Nepal’s Banke district. The project has also been supporting the volunteers by equipping them with supplies. For example, in the absence of alternative transportation, providing FCHVs with bicycles can make it easier for them to make home visits. This allows them to increase the frequency of visits and access families who live in remote areas, which would otherwise take several hours to reach by foot.
Each FCHV is responsible for running a local Mothers Group for women of reproductive age. These groups meet monthly to discuss prevalent health issues facing their communities, and focus on reproductive, maternal, infant and child health and nutrition. Last month in the project area, 115 Mothers Group meetings were conducted, with 1,809 pregnant and lactating mothers attending.
One of these meetings was conducted by an FCHV named Kalawati, who focused on infant nutrition after noticing that several babies in her catchment area appeared malnourished. Kalawati used pictorial resources to discuss infant feeding and nutrition with the 21 mothers in attendance. Next month, she will follow up by conducting a cooking demonstration, emphasizing the importance of hygiene while handling food.
HealthBridge’s work with FCHVs and Mothers Groups is vital for providing vulnerable women with lifesaving information on nutrition and infant and maternal health.