“In 17 years of my work with the Lady Health Workers Programme, his is first time I am feeling the importance of work I am doing being a Lady Health Worker”.
These were the words of 34-year-old Abida Mustafa, after she was crowned the Best Lady Health Worker in Pakistan’s Balochistan province this week.
As part of activities for the first World Health Worker Week, Save the Children in Pakistan have been working with provincial governments to organise this scheme that recognises the achievements of 113 lady health workers. Abida is one of the overall winners for each province.
Delivering healthcare to those in greatest need
Access to healthcare is limited for many children in Pakistan – a country that has one of the highest rates of child deaths in the world.
Families living in remote and rural areas often have the hardest time accessing the most basic health services because it is difficult to recruit doctors and nurses to work in such challenging environments.
This is why the Pakistani Government started the Lady Health Worker scheme in 1994. The scheme trains local women to provide a range of basic services, such as family planning, immunization, hygiene, and maternal and child health in otherwise unserved areas. For many children in Pakistan these Lady Health Workers are the only available healthcare provider.
17 years of service
Abida has been a Lady Health Worker for 17 years. When she first started out, it was hard to get the community to accept her and to overcome cultural barriers that prevent women from making decisions about their health and the health of their children.
“I have faced a lot of hardships in this field, especially in initial years of my carrier,” she said. “People were not ready to give us permission to enter their houses or to talk with their females.
“But with the passage of time I have boosted up my morale and I started to mix with the community to bring them in at the level where they accepted me as part of the community and not an alien. Now I feel that the acceptance level has improved.
“With the permission of the District Health Officer I have started awareness sessions for the women in my village. By educating women we can improve the primary health.”
More health workers still needed
According to Abida, the Lady Health Workers programme is essential. “Because of this programme we are able to save many lives,” she told us. “I am thankful to the government of Pakistan for initiating such type of programme.”
However, there are still challenges to be addressed. Insecurity in Balochistan means that Abida and her colleagues feel that their lives are sometimes at risk. Medicines often go out of stock and the workload is very high.
Earlier this year, Lady Health Workers won a campaign for the regularisation of their services. This move, says Abida, will increase the morale of Lady Health Workers – which will ultimately lead towards an improvement in mother and child health.
She says she will use the profile that comes with her award to ask the authorities to increase the number of Lady Health Workers, especially in Balochistan province, so that more mothers and children can be reached by these vital services.