“Villagers where I live used to seem careless about their health. They had limited knowledge about how to stay healthy; they didn’t get their children vaccinated and when they got sick they went to a traditional healer rather than the health centre”.
These are the observations of Mr. Long Soeng, 40, from a village in Koh Kong province’s Botum Sakor district. He is a community health volunteer known as a Village Health Support Group member (VHSG). VHSGs act as a bridge to communicate health information between the community and health facilities—key figures within community-level health networks. Since October 2012 CARE’s GSK-supported project has worked to develop the knowledge and abilities of VHSGs such as Soeng to help them change the health situation in their communities.
Before, Soeng rarely did any health education in his village because he did not have proper training to hold large sessions. He also says he did not have materials to help with demonstrations when trying to explain topics to other villagers.
CARE supported Soeng to improve his confidence when sharing information with large numbers of people and he says he is now much more motivated to conduct health education sessions regularly. “As a result of the training, I am now able to do health education in my village every month,” he says. “Now my villagers especially women are motivated to participate which is totally different from the beginning.”
Soeng also perceives many benefits from having all the necessary materials – such as flipcharts with 12 key messages for family health – when he speaks with other community members. “I educate them on various health topics such as: the basic care of sick children, proper hygiene and sanitation, prevention of dengue & malaria, birth preparedness, the importance of antenatal care and postnatal care for pregnant women, and why they should get children vaccinated. At every meeting, I have the chance to raise their awareness about seeking health services at the health centre. Additionally, when there are any outbreaks of sickness in the community, I bring this information to the VHSG meeting, which is held every two months. This means the health centre staff know what to prepare for in the community and they can give me additional information.”
After several months of conducting these improved health education sessions, Mr. Soeng has observed positive changes in the community’s behaviour regarding their healthcare. He has seen pregnant women go for health check-ups at the health centre. He has spoken to women who wish to leave 3-5 years between having each of their children; they are using family planning. He has witnessed mothers bring their children to clinics for vaccinations.
Soeng is very happy about the changes he sees as the result of his efforts; he thinks he – and the community – have really benefitted from the support he has received from CARE’s GSK project. He is not alone in this view. Mr. Nouch Bunthoeun, chief of nearby Andoung Tek health centre has also indicated that there has been an increase in the number of treatments, such as vaccinations and ante-natal care, provided at the health centre. He attributes this to the VHSGs’ widespread efforts to share health information with the community.
With an increase in visitors to the health centre, Bunthoeun says he will commit to strengthen the quality of health services provided at his health centre to make sure his clients remain satisfied.
Soeng believes his success was not a standalone case but that other VHSGs have had similar experiences. He believes that support for continued work with these communities will continue to improve the quality of health services in his area.