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Jan 19, 2021

By Bahaa Eddine Sarroukh, Innovation Lead of the Philips Foundation

Back in 1987, the World Health Organization launched the Safe Motherhood Initiative in Kenya, a global movement to reduce maternal mortality. Over the last 30 years, the maternal healthcare field has made considerable progress, but more work is required.


Every day, around 800 women worldwide die from preventable pregnancy and childbirth-related complications. Kenya, where I am based, has about 5,000 maternal deaths a year. Maternal mortality remains high due to a lack of access to skilled care and effective communication within and between health facilities, as well as limited education at the community and primary healthcare level. Many of these deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries, of which Kenya is no exception.


In 2018, the Philips Foundation, together with AMEN Kenya, implemented a two-year project focusing on community health workers’ capacity building in four counties in the utmost part of Northern Kenya. The region has the fourth highest maternal mortality ratio, rating at 1,127 deaths per 100,000 live births in the country – comparing to a global average of 211 per 100,000 (United Nations, 2017). With 40 percent of women delivering at home, the region faces a significant challenge in improving maternal health.


The impact of community health workers


After I moved to Kenya, I saw for myself what significant impact community health workers could bring to remote areas. Community health workers provide life-saving care to their neighborhoods, extending the reach of primary healthcare systems.


One of the crucial strategies to reduce maternal mortality is improving community health workers’ skills. By providing community health workers with the necessary tools and commodities, communities can be reached in the most remote areas. As part of strengthening community-based care, these strategies are critical in saving hundreds of thousands of pregnant women’s lives around the world.

There should be no excuse for not delivering quality health care to the most remote areas. Local community health workers live up by that code

Training of community health workers enables them to identify cases earlier, reduce treatment costs, and change the course of preventable deaths in areas where primary care is not always accessible. For example, through the use of a Philips outreach kit – a backpack containing essential and innovative medical tools – health workers are empowered with high-quality equipment. It not only improves the quality of care delivered but also empowers them, building trust and credibility in their communities that support timely referral whenever it is needed.


To illustrate, Philips Foundation’s two-year project with AMEN Kenya is showing significant impact. So far, the project has trained 220 community health workers. The training, aimed at improving documentation and reporting of services offered at the primary care level, led to a significant uptake of healthcare interventions. The community health workers managed to visit almost 5,000 households, providing 28,000 people access to a wide range of healthcare services to a sparsely populated Marsabit County. We saw that by using the Philips outreach backpack, community health workers managed to increase their home visits from 66.7% to 75.1%. 


Mid-2020, the pandemic also reached northern Kenya. I was struck by how quickly the now trained health workers and their communities adapted to the situation to control the virus. In this project, we have been able to screen more than 42,000 people on COVID-19. It showed the positive impact of skilled care and increased education at a community and primary care level.


I sometimes wonder: Would these communities have accepted such drastic measures if it weren’t for the training of local healthcare workers?


Whatever it takes


Looking back at 2020, we have learned that community health workers have been instrumental in providing primary healthcare services to communities at risk of COVID-19. Amidst the pandemic’s peak in Africa, local health workers in particular demonstrated persistence and resilience in times when healthcare delivery to remote areas was even more challenging.


Not only that, it rejoiced me to witness the inventive solutions community health workers embrace to provide access to healthcare to their communities in these challenging times – a true “can-do” mentality.


In a striking example, I witnessed last year, at the top of the hills at the Kenyan-Ethiopian border, any means available were being used to provide quality care to the mountain villages of Qicha and Qilitipe. To ensure primary healthcare reach these isolated villages, two donkeys accompanied by healthcare workers loaded with medical supplies now visit every month. As a result, mothers and children in particular, since they rarely leave these villages, are now continuously provided with essential healthcare supplies.


To point out here, whatever the situation, the perseverance to provide quality care to the most remote areas is always there. Local community health workers live up by that code.


Since assurances of access to community health – and maternal health in particular – will bring many benefits, we must continue and increase our support of community health workers with locally relevant knowledge and the right set of tools. In this manner, they can effectively do their work and strengthen the link between those who live isolated and the general healthcare referral system.

It rejoiced me to witness the inventive solutions community health workers embrace to provide access to healthcare to their communities in these challenging times – a true “can-do” mentality

For further information, contact:


Yannick Eshuijs

Philips Foundation

Tel.: +31 6 1852 6633


LinkedIn Profile

About Eddine


Bahaa Eddine Sarroukh is Innovation Lead at the Philips Foundation. Within his role, Eddine explores health technologies such as telehealth, point-of-care diagnostics and dedicated solutions for low-resource settings, with the aim to build the evidence and insights that can help create a platform from which healthcare solutions can scale to larger impact in a sustainable way. Next to his role at the Philips Foundation, Eddine is seconded to the United Nations Development Programme in Kenya as Senior Advisor on Innovation and Technology.

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