I walked quickly beside Dismus Mwalukwanda on a sandy path bordered by overgrown shrubbery leading through the bush to rural homes outside of Lusaka, Zambia’s capital. Mwalukwanda, 43, is a frontline health worker for the Njovo Village and took me to visit a family whose young children he has treated often for malaria. Mwalukwand is in charge of helping families in his area make steps toward malaria prevention like ensuring the use of bed nets and he also tests and treats patients who come down with malaria. During the rainy season Mwalukwanda, who is married and has eight children, can see 25 homes a day.
“Mostly I test people using RDT (rapid diagnostic testing),” said Mwalukwanda. “When they are found positive, I treat them.”
Malaria takes the lives of 8,000 people annually in Zambia, most of whom are children under the age of five and expectant mothers whose immune systems can often be weakened and compromised. Utilizing testing and treatments for malaria through the efforts of frontline health workers is a way of gettting health care to those who cannot access health care due to long distances from health facilities. However, when Mwalukwanda treats a patient who isn’t improving quickly from a bout of malaria he refers them to an area hospital for accelerated care.
“Most people come to my house when they get sick,” Mwalukwanda added. “But, I do home visits all month. I might see 50 households a month.”
Mwalukwanda, like many community health workers, provides quality care for many families who otherwise would have no care options, especially those who live in remote, rural, or outlying areas like Njovo village. Frontline health workers the world over provide millions of people with health care armed with little more than a backpack of supplies. Frontline health workers are given robust training from governments or NGO programs that have specific programs for community health worker training.
Without the help of Mwalukwanda hundreds of children would die from malaria. He is their primary point of contact for testing and administration of Coartem, the most effective malaria medicine.
This week marks World Health Worker Week (April 7 – 11) where the global health community honors and celebrates health workers who are on the frontlines of health care for so many. This week is also a sober reminder that millions more health workers are needed to provide even more care for people who desperately need interventions to save their lives.
Photos: Jennifer James
Full disclosure: I met Dismus Mwalukwanda while covering Malaria No More’s global launch of its Power of One campaign.