Community Health Workers in the Fight Against COVID-19
Updated: Aug 30
By Anushree Majumdar, Neuqua Valley High School, Naperville, IL
Throughout the world, we have seen a high number of individuals testing positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus causing COVID-19. As of June 30, 2020, the world has reported approximately 10 million confirmed cases of COVID-19, of which 2.5 million have been reported in the US (WHO Coronavirus, 2020). Although many people understand the coronavirus and its symptoms, there are people who do not fully comprehend the dangers of the virus. In the US itself, 14% of adults stated that they would avoid seeking treatment due to concerns over cost if a family member had a fever and dry cough, whereas only 9% stated they would avoid seeking treatment if a family member was suspected to be infected by the coronavirus. This discrepancy indicates that many adults do not fully understand that fever and dry cough are symptoms of the virus. More often than not, people who live in underprivileged communities have less awareness about health issues (Witters, 2020). So how do we help those with limited resources? The answer is community health workers.
Community health workers (CHW) are recognized by the WHO to be a group of individuals who serve as a liaison between health services and their community. Most CHWs work in underprivileged communities where people often lack access to decent healthcare as well as the means to afford healthcare. In these communities, CHWs have many roles, such as providing health services, delivering health information, and helping individuals to understand their health conditions and to develop strategies to improve their health (Community Health, n.d.). With access to masks, sanitation procedures, and other preventive resources, CHWs have continued to support their communities by limiting the spread of the virus through investigations, prevention and education programs, and screening. As stated earlier, there are many people in the US who do not completely understand the symptoms of coronavirus. By teaching communities how to recognize the symptoms, avoid infection, and determine an individual’s risk of infection, community health workers from several organizations provide communities with the ability to protect themselves and others while also maintaining a healthy lifestyle (Community Health, 2020).
In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the CHWs from the Penn Center for Community Health Workers are connecting patients with preventive care and reinforcing coronavirus prevention strategies. They are also delivering meals to families who are financially struggling due to the economic impact of the pandemic (COVID Mitigation, 2020). In the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, community health workers are also working diligently to help the Hispanic and Latino community, who have higher rates of chronic diseases such as diabetes. Through organizations such as MHP Salud, CHWs make sure that the communities are well-informed about any information regarding the virus. CHWs also use social media and phone calls in order to communicate with Hispanics and Latinos as well as to give medical advice to individuals who are struggling with another disease. Through MHP Salud, the CHWs are able to help those struggling with diseases such as diabetes while also maintaining social distancing (Community Health, 2020). With the help of technology, community health workers have shared prevention strategies and other vital information about COVID-19 to their communities, and they have also helped individuals maintain a healthy lifestyle despite the many problems brought on by the pandemic.
While it is challenging enough for CHWs in the US to serve underprivileged communities, the difficulties faced by CHWs in developing countries far exceed those challenges. For example, in India, many community health workers, referred to as Anganwadi workers (AWW), have stated multiple times that they lack protective gear, adequate sanitation, and effective hygiene facilities; these AWWs are also severely underpaid. Despite these problems, the Anganwadi workers continue to make massive contributions to their communities by educating families so that they learn about preventive measures that will decrease the spread of the virus. On top of supporting breastfeeding mothers and feeding young children, the AWWs have also taken on the duty to distribute rations of rice and pulses to struggling families. This enables families who are struggling financially due to the pandemic in India to maintain a healthy lifestyle. The AWWs have gone even further by going door-to-door and collecting COVID-19 data, distributing available masks to those in poverty, and tracking the movements of migrant workers (Madan & Madan, 2020).
(Nduta & Ouma, 2020)
Not only do community health workers have a strong impact in the US and India, but they also play a vital role in Africa. Through multiple organizations such as Action Against Hunger, CHWs have continued to serve their communities by continuing lifestyle and nutrition programs while also practicing social distancing measures. CHWs have taken several measures to protect the safety of these communities, such as changing nutrition treatment rationing to decrease the number of visits to the health centers, implementing handwashing stations in and around the centers, and wearing protective gear. Although community health workers have made efforts to maintain their previous work, many aspects of their work have changed. For example, before the pandemic, CHWs would normally visit ten families a day whereas now, they only visit one family per day for emergencies only (Nduta & Ouma, 2020). Despite these issues, community health workers have continued to help their communities to the best of their abilities. Organizations such as Amref Health Africa have trained over 50,000 community health workers to not only raise awareness about prevention methods, but also to dismiss myths and misconceptions communities have regarding COVID-19 (What Is Amref, 2020). By educating and providing resources, the community health workers enable these communities to live healthily while also taking precautions to limit the spread of the virus.
Throughout the world, community health workers are helping contain the spread of COVID-19 by educating communities about the disease and conveying preventive strategies to limit the spread of the virus. Despite the many challenges, CHWs continue to be a vital part of the healthcare system and remain the unsung heroes of the underserved communities globally.
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