Nepal’s Female Community Health Volunteers Help a Fractured System Rebound

About fifteen months ago, the first in a series of massive earthquakes hit Nepal. About 9,000 individuals lost their lives and over 20,000 people were injured—many critically. As many as 450 aftershocks have affected the country since then. The financial impact is astounding: total loss is projected at $7.1 billion.

The poorest and most vulnerable communities were the ones hit the hardest, with the government approximating that the disaster pushed nearly 1 million Nepalese back into poverty. The quakes destroyed an estimated half a million homes and damaged 65% of the health facilities in 14 most quake-affected districts. Health services in these areas were forced to shift into tents and other temporary structures.

Female Community Health Volunteers at a training session.

Female Community Health Volunteers (FCHVs) have been an instrumental force in promoting maternal and child health programs in Nepal since 1988. Today, there are more than 52,000 FCHVs in the country. What started as a small community-based program is now a source of national pride.

FCHVs have a long history of doing an excellent job promoting essential health services in communities cut off from facilities. Because of this history, the role of FCHVs was more crucial than ever after the earthquake devastated the country’s health infrastructure.

Due to the earthquake, Nepal lost eight health workers, 15 FCHVs, several FCHVs’ beloved family members and relatives, as well as their homes and property. Despite the fact that many of the FCHVs were in a state of shock, these brave women still responded to the request made by the Government of Nepal and its partners for uninterrupted health services in communities. 

In order to aid the FCHVs in their work, the government and its partners provided the women with psychosocial counseling and equipped them with emergency relief kits, reproductive health kits, emergency medicines, and other supplies. Once the FCHVs received this psychological and practical support, they were able to provide community health services, including EPI clinics, emergency health camps, and distribution of health commodities such as chlorhexidine, hygiene kits for mothers, pills, and condoms.

The FCHVs linked those who needed services with organizations and health facilities that could provide emergency aid and supplies. To people in areas that had limited access to health services and shortages of healthcare professionals, the FCHVs emphasized the importance of staying healthy. 

The FCHVs’ respected position within the community, and the health system, and their strong networks allowed them to coordinate an immediate and impactful post-earthquake response that helped to limit the long-term damage to Nepal’s health sector.

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