Community Health Workers: Accessible Healthcare in Rural Communities

By Program Associate Erin Barnett in Honduras

One major barrier to accessible healthcare in Honduras is understaffed healthcare providers in rural communities. While the CDC estimates physician population density to be .37 physicians per 1000 population in Honduras, the majority of these health services are located in urban areas.

Community Health Workers (CHWs) are part of the solution to this problem, as volunteers who have decided to dedicate their time to take care of the basic health and first aid needs of other members of their community. The mission of the Community Health Worker program is to empower community members to facilitate basic health services, particularly in resource-constrained communities.

Community Health Workers with American University of Antigua, Cleveland State University, University of Maryland Baltimore, and Smith College in San Matias, Honduras

To be a Community Health Worker, candidates must be over 18 years old, know how to read and write, and, most importantly, have a desire to attend to their community. While provided equipment to perform their duties, CHWs are volunteers. Ana Mejia is a 40 year old Community Health Worker in El Ocote, Honduras. When asked why she dedicates her time to this work, she replied “I think that it is a desire to serve as a committee member and a CHW, to be able to come and help the people who need it more than us.”

Ana Meija, CHW in the community of El Ocote, Honduras

The Community Health Worker program is part of the sustainable development work of Global Brigades. CHWs help resolve health disparities by providing regular healthcare access to patients with chronic illnesses. Some chronic illnesses commonly treated by CHWs include diabetes and hypertension. CHWs are also trained in first aid, CPR, prenatal care, mental health, palliative care, along with many other health topics through initial training and CHW Conferences that are put on by local and foreign Health Care Professionals.

The Community Health Worker program is also a major part of empowering community members by providing training and by putting the community’s health goals into the hands of community members. Training to become a CHW is approximately three months long, with two training sessions each week. Through this training, CHWs gain practical knowledge on healthcare techniques.

Palliative care station at a recent conference at the lodging facility Casa del Sol, Honduras

Currently, there are 210 active Community Health Workers working in 70 different communities in Honduras. This means that chronic disease patients now have more consistent access to healthcare in these 70 communities. Historically, 385 CHWs have been trained and equipped in Honduras, reaching nearly 100 communities. Global Brigades works to follow-up with these CHWs as well as train additional communities. CHWs are providing sustainable, year-round support to the work that student volunteers do during 7-12 day Medical Brigades. To learn more about the Community Health Worker program, ask about including a CHW day on your next brigade! To find out if you have a Medical Chapter on your campus, visit www.globalbrigades.org/chapters.

Global Brigades

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