Kenyan Community Health worker wins global healthcare award

Mercy Owuor could not forget to smile as we interviewed her on her recent coveted honour bestowed on her by the Women in Global Health (WGH) Movement in the Swiss Capital, Geneva.

The 35-year-old Community Health expert from Lwala Community Alliance in Migori County was honoured alongside 12 other women at the movement’s Heroines of Health gala event on May 23, 2017 on the margins of the World Health Assembly.

From Kenya, it was only Mercy and two other women from Kilifi who were awarded the first ever Prize of its kind for good work done in a programme dubbed; GE Healthymagination.

The rest came from Uganda, South Africa, Lesotho, Ghana, Greece and India among other world nations.

To mercy, it was an extraordinary privilege to have been shortlisted for the award and now appreciates all those people from Kenya and Africa who have since sent her messages of congratulations after returning from abroad with the prize.

From her neatly furnished office at Lwala Community Alliance Centre in Rongo Sub County, Migori, the humble mother of two recalls how one day an e-mail inviting her to Geneva for the award popped out from her inbox as she sifted through her mails on her laptop.

The message made me shed tears of joy. I was torn between believing and dismissing it. But deep inside me, a tinge of truth about the message was already whirling around me, she says with a near lisping speech.

A holder of Masters’ degree in Community Health and Development from the Great Lakes University, Kisumu and BA Sociology from Moi University, Eldoret, Mercy says the confirmation that she was truly headed for the award miles away catapulted her emotions and she felt great among her equals.

I felt that this event was going to validate my good work for Kenyan mothers and new born infants dogged by poor health, she says.

According to her, the whole episode leading to her flight to Geneva started in March this year. It was on Friday March 17th at around 5pm when she first received an e-mail message from GE joins Women in Global Health Movement asking her for an urgent 30 minutes interview at exactly 6pm.

I was in the office when I saw this message. I opted to face the interview which otherwise I didn’t even know what it was all about, she explained.

And at exactly 6pm, a phone call buzzed from her phone and when she picked it the caller informed her of a documentary that was intended to be shot with her participation.

Three women from Kenya were to participate based on their exemplary role in clinical services and community outreach efforts to children under the age of 5 towards reducing under five and maternal mortality among communities, says Mercy.

Two weeks after the lengthy interview, Mercy received a message that immediately changed her life. She had been selected to be honoured for her exemplary work as a community health worker within and beyond Lwala Community in Migori.

As a programme director at the Alliance, Mercy had steered her organisation to promptly tackle the multidimensional drivers of poor health in Western Kenya thus winning the hearts of the Global Health Movement officials and leading to the coveted award she received in Geneva.

Her exemplary work manifested in her efforts to drastically reduce maternal and child mortality by slaying the key drivers of deaths such as unplanned pregnancies, mother �to-child transmission of HIV, poor prenatal care, unskilled deliveries, poor clinical practices, lack of emergency transport and delayed treatment of childhood illnesses.

From the good work she did through partnership with the Kenya government, her organisation was able to increase facility deliveries from 26 percent to 97 percent.

Rates of mother- to-child HIV transmission had to nose-dive to near zero, and a dash of 300 percent increase in family planning uptake.

Through the programme christened ‘help child reach their 5th birthday’, Mercy was able to reduce under 5 mortality in the community by 64 percent, while immunisation cover leapt from 59 percent to 94 percent.

We employed a community�facility approach, supporting clinical services at government health facilities and running a robust community health worker programme. We tracked and supported every pregnant mother, child under 5, and persons living with HIV, she explained.

Mercy also ensured that the Alliance opened community and facility access points for reproductive health, maternal, HIV, and child health services as a comprehensive package.

However, it was a challenge to Mercy and the Alliance to include men in the programme with the aim of giving it a wide success than it has so far achieved.

Men had been taking a back seat in reproductive and adolescent health, leading to the failure of family planning and the many health complications facing women and children in the region, she explains.

At 70 percent female uptake, the programme that we have been implementing within this community now targets a 50 -50 male-female participation to be able to make it more successful in bettering the lives of women and children, adds Mercy.

Besides this, it has been hectic bridging the missing gap between the traditional birth attendants (TBAs) and modern health experts despite former doing a good work in villages.

It is this reason that Mercy got an accolade from the Women Global Health for making a sustained campaign to bring the TBAs on board in the effort to fight negative practices that endangered the lives of pregnant mothers and their new born babies.

Following the award, Mercy says she has now developed a well cut-out vision for her pet-programme with a view to benefiting more women and children. We have a plan to scale up the programme beyond Migori County so that more women and children can benefit, she stresses with a finality in her tone.

For now, we can simply applaud Mercy Owuor for her success and look admiringly at her trophy, a glass medal, symbolic of heart.

Source: Kenya News Agency