06 April 2011
(Left-right) Sushmita Sumbhamphe, 22, who is nine months pregnant, and her mother listen to Chandra Maya, a woman community health volunteer, at their home in Chowkmagu Village in Panchthar District in the remote, mountainous Eastern Region. Chandra holds a chart with the names of all the pregnant women in the village, together with their ages, number of pregnancies and live births, and frequency of their antenatal visits. Sushmita receives regular antenatal check-ups, and has been taking Vitamin A, iron and folic acid supplements. However, she has anaemia and swelling in her limbs. While Chandra has advised an institutional delivery, Sushmita plans to deliver her baby at home with the help of her mother, who has no midwifery experience. They will send for Chandra if complications arise. Chandra is a trained birth assistant, and has conducted over 150 deliveries in the past 14 years. (UNICEF/Anita Khemka)(Foreground, centre) Chandra Maya, a woman community health volunteer, gives Sushmita Sumbhamphe, 22, who is nine months pregnant, Vitamin A, iron and folic acid supplements, during a home visit in Chowkmagu Village in Panchthar District in the remote, mountainous Eastern Region. Sushmita's mother (left) watches over her shoulder, while her siblings (right) watch from a ladder. Sushmita receives regular antenatal check-ups, and has been taking Vitamin A, iron and folic acid supplements. However, she has anaemia and swelling in her limbs. While Chandra has advised an institutional delivery, Sushmita plans to deliver her baby at home with the help of her mother, who has no midwifery experience. They will send for Chandra if complications arise. Chandra is a trained birth assistant, and has conducted over 150 deliveries in the past 14 years. (UNICEF/Anita Khemka)Kathmandu, Nepal:
"In the last 15 years, we have managed to reduce child mortality by two-thirds," says Dr. Yashovardhan Pradhan, Chief of the Child Health Division under the Ministry of Health in Nepal.
"The fact that we are well on track to achieve MDG 4 can be credited to the expansion of health facilities across the country and the role played by the Female Community Health Volunteers."
Nearly 50,000 Nepali women have been working to extend primary health care at the community level. These Female Community Health Volunteers are trained to provide key services and interventions for pregnant women and children.
The volunteers roam Nepal’s rural areas and are trained to give basic advice and services, including maternal child health care, family planning, immunization, and treatment of acute respiratory infection (ARI) cases. They refer women to health facilities in districts, serving as the bridge between Government health programmes and the communities.
Moreover, Female Community Health Volunteers in Nepal have contributed significantly to establishing women's leadership and empowering them at the village level.
They are frequently faced with adversity in their work. “One day in monsoon season,” recalls one volunteer in Mahottari, “I was called to a pregnant woman who was reported to have worrying signs. On my way I had to cross the river which that time was well over my waistline. I was so scared but I knew that I had to go and see this neighbour.
“Everyone in the village trusts me so much, and I can see how my work has saved many lives in the vicinity. I couldn't possibly discontinue this occupation as I'm aware that people need me.”
The work of the volunteers makes an undeniable difference to marginalized people who have few other opportunities to reach healthcare. Chonghee Choi, a Korean UN Volunteer who worked with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) on the programme, remembers visiting a visited a low-caste Dalit village in Dang.
She met a woman who recently underwent a uterine prolapse operation. “Had it not been for our local health volunteer's help,” said the woman, “I wouldn't have known that I could finish this misery. Since my husband has gone to India for work, I did not know how to take care of my children and my own health. Now, I can do better thanks to the volunteer's' help.”
The Female Community Health Volunteer Programme was started by the Government of Nepal in 1988. Partners and donors include UNICEF, UNFPA, USAID and the Gates Foundation.
More about the Female Community Health Volunteers (follow links):
Gates Foundation (video)
About the International Year of Volunteers +10
Volunteering empowers people to take an active part in the development of their own communities, to take responsibility for the needs of others, and to make an impact in their own lives. Volunteering often starts at home: but together, volunteers can change the world. It is 10 years since the International Year of Volunteers in 2001, and through General Assembly Resolution 63/153 (2008), the United Nations called for this anniversary to be marked across the planet. The aims of the wide range of partners are to promote the values of volunteering, recognize the value of volunteering, build and reinforce volunteering networks both nationally and globally, and help people tap their potential to make a difference to peace-building and development.