mandyMooreFor millions of parents in the developing world, waking up in the middle of the night to find that one of their children is ill with a life-threatening fever is a common reality. I have witnessed these parents’ struggle as they carry their children by foot to the nearest health center (which often can be one or two days away) only to find that they cannot afford the treatment.

Three years ago, the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) launched a unique pilot program in several countries in Africa. Last summer, I traveled to Cameroon with the global health organization PSI–to see the program firsthand.

We set out for the small village of Ebanga, where I met a reserved grandmother named Madame Ngono. We sat together in her mud hut. She held her grandson close.  He squirmed and wiggled and wanted to escape her grasp to join his friends who were playing outside. She gave him the sign, and off he ran.

After her grandson left, Madame Ngono told me about each time he had fallen ill and about her other grandchildren who had been sick with malaria. I could tell that a lot of pain—and tenderness—lay beneath her strong exterior. I asked her about her dream for her grandson. She responded that she hoped only for him to be healthy.

She then walked me through the village and introduced me to Atangana Manga. In 2009, Atangana became a community health worker under the CIDA program. Along with 2,142 other volunteers from across Cameroon, Atangana received training from Cameroon’s Ministry of Public Heath and PSI’s local affiliate, ACMS, to administer timely, WHO-approved treatment for early cases of malaria and diarrhea to children in Ebanga.   

We sat down with Atangana to learn more about community health work. A proud man, he spoke with great eloquence. In another life, Atangana could have been a stage actor, a preacher or a motivational speaker. He had us enraptured with his explanation of his work. I could see why he was so effective.

Atangana explained that he was a volunteer. He made his living as a farmer and people came to his home at all hours of the day and night for help–sometimes to the chagrin of his wife. Nevertheless, he served them with great pride.

Later that afternoon, I visited a district health clinic where doctors and nurses told me that they rarely saw severe cases of malaria and diarrhea anymore, thanks to the timely treatment and advice provided by Atangana and other community health workers in surrounding villages.

Not only did I leave Cameroon deeply affected by what I saw in Ebanga, but I remain in awe of the impact that the program has had:  Within the Cameroonian communities where the program has been piloted, twice as many mothers have received antimalarial treatment for their children and more than 57 percent of children with fevers have been successfully treated. For diarrhea cases, 60 percent of children have received oral rehydration salts, compared to 7 percent in non-pilot communities.

Imagine if these statistics were applied to every country and every disease in Africa – and around the world?

I love this program and applaud CIDA for its initiative to improve the lives of the families I met in Ebanga as well as those in other Cameroonian communities.

I promised Madame Ngono I would pass along a message: Please continue this work, she’d like to see her dream realized.