Update from Zambia: Global Health student reports on community health efforts with the Peace Corps

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Global Health graduate student and Peace Corps Volunteer Folashade Osibanjo, recently reported on her continuing experience in the Peace Corps as a Community Health Volunteer. Folashade is serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer through the Peace Corps Masters International (PCMI) program, along with six other COPH graduate students. In her recent report, Folashade discussed her roles and responsibilities, as well as observations of her service as a Peace Corps Volunteer, and the following is an excerpt from her report.

My responsibilities/goals as a Peace Corps CHIP (Community Health Improvement Project) volunteer in Zambia have not changed during my Peace Corps service. I have continued with my efforts to (a) enhance the capacity of individuals and their families residing in Zambia to be able to improve their own health and well-being, (b) enhance the capacity of service providers working in Zambia such as rural health center staff and community based health workers, and (c) enhance the capacity of various domestic and foreign organizations working to improve the health and well-being of Zambians. The underlying objectives of my project goals include the following: provide education to caregivers on child feeding practices, focus on nutritional recuperation, particularly in children under the age of five, address issues pertaining to safe motherhood and neonatal care, work to help prevent HIV transmission, promote voluntary counseling and testing (VCT), assist in preventing mother to child transmission (PMTCT), and focus on reducing malaria prevalence.

During this past quarter of my service with the Peace Corps, my work with regards to HIV/AIDS has largely been with teens in my community, specifically from Nsadzu Youth Group and young females in the newly created girls club at Chiwongo Basic School known as the GLOW (Girl’s Leading Our World) Club. The GLOW Club has been created to empower girls, and equip them with life skills such as the importance of building a good self-esteem to combat the challenges of early sexual experience, early pregnancy, early marriage, and ultimately grow up into their full potential. Thus far, we have held two GLOW Club meetings since the establishment of the club in October, 2012, where we gave members an orientation on the significance of empowering girls and highlighted sensitive topics and issues to be addressed in future meetings. We intend on promoting the ABC model (Abstinence, Being Faithful, and Condom Use) when discussing subjects pertaining to adolescent sexual and reproductive health.

With regards to enhancing the capacity of service providers and community based health workers my clinic’s Environment Health Technologist (EHT) and I have held Positive Support Nutrition workshops for community based volunteers (CBVs). Subsequently, we also promoted the importance of a balanced diet through cooking outreach events, using locally available produce for food preparation; this nutritional event targeted pregnant women and developing children, regardless of their HIV status. However, we cannot overstate the importance of good nutrition as part of living positively and staying healthy among individuals who have HIV.

Even though my responsibilities have not changed, the structure of Zambia’s health system has changed slightly. According to recent news within Zambia, the Ministry of Health (MOH) no longer oversees rural health centers (RHCs), which is the main organization with whom I directly work. RHCs are now governed by a newly created department known as Maternal and Child Health/Community Development. At the moment it is unknown whether this bureaucratic change will have an impact on the health system structural effectiveness and services provided at rural health centers. I am the first generation of Peace Corps volunteer at my site, and while the approaches I employ in addressing my responsibilities may be effective and relevant now, they may be ineffective and irrelevant in the future as my site gets replaced by subsequent Peace Corps volunteers, and as the Zambian government works toward developing the country’s health infrastructure. Although my aforementioned Peace Corps responsibilities are unlikely to change during the rest of my service, I expect that the process through which these goals/responsibilities might be accomplished or met will be constantly changing, given the unpredictable political and socioeconomic conditions that exist in a developing nation such as Zambia.