How to provide health care in rural areas

By Jeff Palmer, CEO on February 8, 2018 | Print

Usually, when we think of health care, we tend to think of hospitals and clinics or maybe even healthcare professionals like doctors and nurses.

But what do you do when you live in an area of the world without a healthcare facility or provider for miles?

During our days of rural community development work, almost every place we worked identified health care as an issue. The remotest areas we worked in were days removed from any form of health care facility. To make matters worse, the facility that was the closest to them was oftentimes a government run health clinic with no medical professional on duty. More often than not, the locally provided government health worker (typically a trained midwife) wasn’t even in clinic when people arrived.

We decided, working together with communities, to train village health workers (VHWs) in each of the communities we worked with. We usually trained two per community for support and security as they went from house to house. Those that passed through the program would receive a simple certificate, lots of simple, reproducible health lesson plans, and some “tools for the trade” such as a portable medical kit that they could use to treat simple maladies.

Most of the things the VHWs did were non-medical. For example, they would:

  • Teach lessons on good nutrition and its impact on health.
  • Teach hygiene lessons on topics ranging from hand washing to food preparation.
  • Teach first aid and treat minor wounds.
  • Teach standard lesson plans on the common diseases of their area such as malaria, intestinal parasites, upper respiratory infections, and how to prevent the diseases.
  • Stay in tune with locally available government programs and schedules such as immunization days, wellness screenings, etc., and served as a connector for those events.
  • And, most importantly, they would learn how to recognize when a patient needed to see a real doctor and how to help the local people get there in times of emergencies.

Our village health program, which we called, “Farm Family Health”, eventually grew to include our mobile pharmacies. The strongest “drug” in the backpack was an analgesic like Tylenol.

In most of the places we ran these Village Health Worker programs, the VHW’s were also trained Bible story tellers. They were equipped with stories about health and hygiene from the Bible and would share them as a part of their home visits. They also share stories about eternal health and hope. In many cases, we would see not only people and communities improve in their overall physical health but we also would see a great improvement in spiritual health as well.