“I’m a peasant farmer and we survive on selling our produce. Now I’m collecting my medication at my doorstep,” says 70-year-old Spiwe Mpofu, a resident of Chiredzi District in Zimbabwe. Her words resonate with the newfound hope and convenience that the announcement of integrated outreach programs in her community has brought.
Chiredzi District, home to over 26,000 residents, has long faced the challenge of limited access to healthcare. Previously, residents had to endure a gruelling journey of approximately 52km to the closest bus terminals, followed by another 72km bus ride to reach Chiredzi District Hospital, the nearest health facility.
However, thanks to an initiative supported by the Health Resilience Fund (HRF), healthcare services are now being brought directly to the community. Mpofu, like many others, no longer has to walk 60-120km to the nearest hospital or clinic, a journey that was not only time-consuming but also posed financial burden or risks.
The Health Resilience Fund (HRF) is a coordinated effort by the Government of Zimbabwe and Development Partners in support of the Ministry of Health and Child Care, to improve health systems resilience to shocks, equitable access to quality health care in Zimbabwe, with special emphasis on Women, New-borns, Children, Adolescents, Youth and Health Emergencies.
“For decades, individuals living in rural areas have been considered medically underserved. Access to healthcare is a problem that has been increasing for individuals in rural communities,” explains Mpofu, highlighting the challenges faced by rural residents in obtaining the care they need.
The integrated outreach was providing a basic package of primary health care services across all age groups contributing to reducing financial hardships faced by rural folks to accessing services. The ultimate goal is to accelerate the attainment of Health for All Agenda by 2030.
The HRF is a four-year pooled fund from 2022 to 2025 with funding from UK Government , EU, Ireland and Gavi.
The Fund works in alignment with the National Development Strategy-1 (NDS-1) and National Health Strategy (NHS) 2021-2025. The Health Resilience Fund is centered on three pillars.
i) Ending Preventable Deaths (EPD) in Maternal Newborn and Child Health,
ii) Consolidating Zimbabwe’s Global Health Security systems,
iii) Strengthening health system and advocating for enhanced allocative, technical, and operational efficiencies.
Attaining Universal Health Coverage (UHC) is a major goal for healthcare delivery, and Zimbabwe is currently reforming its health system through the development of a national integrated health outreach program as a vehicle to deliver comprehensive primary health care services . This program aims to ensure that healthcare services are available and obtainable in a timely manner, bridging the gap for individuals in rural areas.
Speaking at a media tour facilitated by UNICEF, recently at Basi Primary School ,Cresencia Maphosa, Provincial Nursing Officer, emphasizes the critical role of health outreach programs in improving and extending the reach of healthcare. These programs provide essential services such as health education, routine immunization, COVID-19 vaccination, and family health services. Maphosa states, “Outreach services play a crucial role in delivering integrated primary healthcare services, ensuring that communities have access to the care they need.”
“We are in Chiredzi District and we are conducting facility based outreach where we move out from the facility and meet the community so that we reduce the distance which they travelled to the facility for such services.
“Today we are offering services like vaccinations for the children under five, growth monitoring, Human papillomavirus (HPV) for the girls for who are 10 years and above first and second dose. We also giving COVID-19 vaccines to school children who have turned 12 years include all outpatients services to the general population.
“We are also giving health education to the mothers before their children vaccinated. We are also giving vitamin A for the children who are due and overdue from 6 months.
“Our health workers have been trained on cholera and polio. They also conducted diseases surveillance within the communities, and if ever there is a child or any other having symptoms of polio or whatever disease they know what to do”, Maposa explained.
The impact of these outreach programs is evident in the testimonies of residents like Spiwe Mpofu. The convenience of receiving medication at her doorstep has brought a new lease of life to Mpofu and others in the community. The Health Resilience Fund, a coordinated effort by the Government of Zimbabwe and Development Partners, aims to improve health systems resilience and equitable access to quality healthcare.
As Zimbabwe strives to achieve sustainable and equitable health outcomes, the voices of individuals like Spiwe Mpofu highlight the importance of these outreach programs. With healthcare services now within reach, rural communities are experiencing a transformative change, ensuring that no one is left behind in their pursuit of better health.
In an interview with this publication Village Health Worker, Ellen Mabika who worked with five villages revealed that the outreach programme is an eye openner to the community as residents from far villages come to the central point to access health care services.
Mabika hails UNICEF and its partners for supporting village health workers through the Ministry of Health and Child Care, where people in hard-to-reach areas have access to health services.
Mabika added that the role of the Village Health Worker is therefore to, educate individuals and communities on health related issues, health promotion and disease prevention thus increasing health literacy.
“More specific roles include treatment of minor childhood illnesses and adult ailments at community level, provision of education on breast feeding, nutrition and immunisation, non communicable diseases, communicable diseases, water and sanitation, support outreaches activities including conduct home visits.
“Our duty is to collects and keeps record of information about the health of individuals in the village and acts as an early warning system, notifying the formal health services of any suspicious diseases or conditions in the community”, Mabika explained.
Mabika highlighted that, some mothers from vaccine hesitancy communities visit clinics in secret, sometimes under the cover of night and without their husbands knowing.
“Health workers are doing a great job in the communities and a group of vaccine hesitancy communities who are open to modern medicine have been trying to change church attitudes, but also advise women to go against church rules if it means helping their children”, said Mabika.