Lois Quam is the Executive Director of the Global Health Initiative.
In the Senegalese village of Nianing, I joined a group of elderly ladies in a circle of plastic chairs as they sang a simple song, a drum keeping time with their claps. Despite their years, each stood up one by one to dance a few steps. But this “grandmothers’ group” does more than dance – they counsel young wives of the village to limit childbearing from 18 and 35 years of age and space births two years apart.
I met lots of other people in the village who cared about the good health of their community too: political and religious leaders, volunteer health workers, and the counterpart to the grandmothers, a newlyweds association. Their focal point is a “health hut,” which USAID supports through equipment and training of volunteer community mobilizers and health practitioners.
The health hut belongs to the village and you can see the difference it makes. It’s been four months since they’ve had a positive malaria test, and in March nearly 40 women have come in to receive family planning services. At the district health post down the road, we learned that they hadn’t lost a mother since the renovation of its maternity ward, thanks to safe, delivery services provided by qualified personnel – including a young, dynamic midwife named Felicity, who had been recruited by the district health post health committee.
As they opened their records for me, I could see their pride in the statistics they shared, which testified to the fact that practically everyone is engaged in the good health of the community. It moved me to see the way village leaders and extended families work together on a daily basis to develop and operate the health care services that they really need.
During my trip, I also met with religious, civil society, and implementation partners in a lovely reception at the Ambassador’s residence. A highlight of this evening was meeting the Senegalese military leaders engaged in combating HIV/AIDS.
You can see that they have been built up over time with the long term support of the American people. The health hut – and their good health – belongs to them. I am really proud of the work that the United States government, through USAID, the Peace Corps, the Department of Defense, PEPFAR and Centers for Disease Control have done to help make that possible. And I am so proud of how effectively our team works together. To learn more about health huts in Senegal, click here.