The world seems to be upside down

Niger, October 1, 2010

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Haoua Sidibe/Mercy Corps  </span>
    Ibrahim Kalilou, a Community Health Worker in Tondibia Gorou village, treats a patient who lays on a mat on the floor. Photo: Haoua Sidibe/Mercy Corps

We traveled only five kilometers from Niamey, the capital of Niger, to where we met Mr. Ibrahim Kalilou, a Community Health Worker in Tondibia Gorou village. Although he likes his job, his face shows despair and fatigue, despite efforts made by Niger's Government and its development partners, which include Mercy Corps, to intervene in this village through Community Health and Income-Generating Activities programs.

Through this program, which started in early 2008 in 133 communities, Mercy Corps trains Community Health Workers who provide primary health care services within their communities. Together with Mercy Corps, they develop a community health monitoring system to identify and track high-risk cases. The Community Health Workers help residents increase their awareness and understanding of health risks and preventive measures for mitigating risks commonly associated with maternal/child health.

In addition, they provide primary health care services locally, such as vaccinations, weight monitoring for children at risk of malnourishment and follow-up on pregnant women. Mercy Corps has also made other community assistance grants to finance local projects such as gardening and animal husbandry, which promote nutrition and health as well as serve as income-generating activities.

But, compared to some countries, the world seems to be upside down here! In the United States, the average ratio of nurses to population is 675 nurses for every 10,000 people, while here in Niger there is a just one single health worker for every 4,500 people! Patients receive medical treatments on mats, the health worker works without gloves and the serum is hung on the wall; in short, we can simply say that much remains to be done!

"Imagine, I travel 50 kilometers daily to rescue people who are still waiting" said Ibrahim, wearily. "The solution would be the recruitment of another person to assist me in doing this job."

As we close our conversation, a patient who has been listening tells me this: "Mercy Corps has done a lot for this village, but don’t be tired, because our problems are many!"

When back in Niamey, we met with the Mayor and discussed this case with him. We also called the health district and pleaded with them to provide sufficient medicine and to work with the Mayor to do something further for the population.

As a humanitarian worker, my power is limited! But as Mercy Corps, you can help health workers like Ibrahim and villages like Tondibia Gorou to solve this crucial problem.