Volunteer community health worker Sophie Makoza’s smile says it all as she holds baby Gloria—another safe and successful birth! Makoza has made it her mission to encourage women in her community to give birth at a health facility instead of at home. She knows that this practice saves lives. Many Malawian women rely on a grandmother, mother or aunt instead of a health worker to help them deliver, even though they may not have the skills to treat the mother or the baby if things go wrong. This is where Makoza comes in.
A Jhpiego-led project is working with volunteer community health workers in Malawi to educate women on safe birth practices and the importance of giving birth in a health facility with skilled midwives or nurses available on site. Makoza and 14 other care group volunteers, as they are called, are keeping families in the Chilipa district healthy and strong.
These volunteers are often the first line of basic health care for the women and families in their communities. They travel mostly on foot, walking door to door to conduct counseling on nutrition, promote healthy eating habits and champion hygiene and sanitation in their villages. Makoza usually visits 30 families a week.
Sofilet and George, a newly married couple from Thaulo village, are one such family. When Makoza heard that Sofilet was pregnant, she visited the couple to share and explain health issues related to pregnancy, including the benefits of giving birth in a health facility.
With Makoza’s encouragement, Sofilet prepared for the birth of her baby and made a plan to travel the three miles to the Nsaru Health Center. When Sofilet went into labor, the couple set off on their family bicycle, with George pedaling the entire way. Upon arriving at the health center, Sofilet gave birth to Gloria.
After Sofilet and baby Gloria returned home, Makoza was one of their first visitors. She counseled the new mother on exclusive breastfeeding to keep the baby healthy, sleeping under a mosquito net to avoid malaria and the importance of vaccinations and family planning.
“Because she is not my mother, I feel like I can ask her anything without feeling shy,” said Sofilet, who initially struggled with breastfeeding. “Sophie demonstrated how to hold the baby at my breast during breastfeeding. From then on, I have breastfed with confidence and my daughter enjoys it.”