The following post was contributed to the HNN with permission from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
As Melinda blogged about last week, frontline healthcare workers can play a vital role in saving the lives of women and children. They may not be Hollywood stars, but they have a huge impact on their communities. They are the first point of contact for families with the health system, and are capable of providing many life-saving interventions.
Frontline workers are often based in the community and come from the community they serve; they play a critical role in providing local context for scientific evidence and in connecting families and communities to the health system. Examples of frontline workers include community health workers, peer counselors, shopkeepers who sell medicines, and unqualified medical practitioners. In some settings, nurse midwives and even physicians may be considered frontline workers.
Frontline workers can provide antenatal care, promote healthy newborn care practices at home, provide immunizations, improve care seeking for neonatal illness by providing education in recognition of signs of illness, identify signs of newborn illness and refer sick infants to a health facility, and manage illness at home when a referral is not complied with or facility-level referral is not feasible. In short, they can do a lot, as seen in the first video.
Another Save the Children video, Projahnmo: Generations to Come, tells the story of a groundbreaking research project in Bangladesh, which utilized local women as frontline workers to provide maternal and newborn care. Families came to rely on these workers as trusted sources of information who have valuable skills in maternal and newborn care.
I worked on this project before joining the foundation and saw firsthand the amazing impact that these frontline healthcare workers had. The workers were all women, and it was amazing to witness their metamorphosis through empowerment over the course of the project; they grew to become a real force and were revered in the community. The workers identified pregnant women, promoted antenatal care, made antenatal home visits to help families plan for the birth and for newborn care, and made postnatal visits to reinforce preventive practices and to assess newborns for illness. Remarkably, if the family refused referral of a sick newborn to the hospital, these local village women were able to provide injectable antibiotic therapy – something generally only given by doctors – right at home. Newborns under their care at home survived equally well as newborns treated in the local hospital by the professional staff.
This program reduced newborn deaths by 34 percent, demonstrating the tremendous potential for frontline workers, in this case village-based women with a high school education and no prior experience in the health field, to acquire knowledge and highly demanding skills to save newborn lives and ensure a better future for generations to come.
This is just one more living proof that investments in global health are working.
Watch the full version of Projahnmo: Generations to Come (24 minutes)