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Focus on community health leadership training could help Africa overcome deaths from preventable diseases

Focus on community health leadership training could help Africa overcome deaths from preventable diseases

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Prof Miriam Were, a community health guru addresses the graduation ceremony of 27 interns in Nairobi, Kenya recently

Many of the diseases ravaging most parts of Africa are preventable, but a lack of resources and right expertise have perpetuated the sad state the world’s second largest continent finds itself in.

To help address the situation, Novartis embarked on a programme to provide practical-oriented training for community health leaders providing hands-on community health education experience through a three-month internship.

“The CHER program increases the pool of high quality community health educators,” said Colin Pillai, Global Head of Clinical Research Capability Development. “Community health education is an essential support of the healthcare system in Kenya, particularly in areas with limited access to healthcare facilities, added Mo Metwally, Novartis Head, East Africa Country Group.”

CHER began in 2014 as a pilot program within Familia Nawiri, a Novartis social venture designed to build local, sustainable solutions to address healthcare challenges for underserved communities by tackling the issues that impact access to healthcare – such as education, infrastructure and distribution.

Familia Nawiri is the Kenyan implementation of the large-scale social venture Arogya Parivar in India. Health educators are trained to teach communities about good health, hygiene, nutrition, common diseases, disease prevention and rational use of medicines. In addition, the program increases access to medicines through health camps where patients receive diagnosis and treatment, as well as by informing local physicians and pharmacists about treatment options.

Novartis is increasing its focus on reaching underserved people. In 2014, Familia Nawiri delivered health awareness sessions to more than 160,000 people, with 3,200 people diagnosed and treated in health camps organized together with qualified doctors.

“Last year, Familia Nawiri could reach more people in rural communities thanks to the participation of the interns. We will continue to provide health education to rural communities and training for healthcare providers, said Tejasvi Sharma, Head Group Social Business. In Kenya we are facilitating access to quality medicines at affordable prices with a focus on key essential medicines through our generic division” highlighted Maria Sotomayor, Sandoz Country Head Kenya Cluster.

“I am so delighted that a pharmaceutical company has decided work with us [Ministry of Health], said Prof. Miriam Were, Community Health Strategy Goodwill Ambassador. This is actually the reason why I am here this evening. I want to wish you luck and to see people like yourselves interested in this adventurous undertaking. It has made my day, it has made my year”. 

“The CHER program brings multiple benefits to the community and the students, including: reaching more people with health messages; personal leadership development and real-life experience in community health education and is well aligned with our community health strategy”, added Dr. Salim Hussein, Head Community Health unit, Ministry of Health.

Unclean water, poor sanitation and hygiene-related diseases are leading causes of hospitalization and mortality for children under five in Kenya. More than 50 percent of hospital visits in the country are illnesses related to these issues2, and a focus on community education covering these topics plays a major role in improving health outcomes.

“I am very impressed and I very much enjoy to see that there are new forms of health service delivery for the populations most in need”, concluded Prof. Marcel Tanner, Director of Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute.

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