Have you ever wondered who the unsung heroes of public health are? Community health workers, or CHWs, are invaluable and often overlooked individuals who support healthcare providers in underserved communities across the world. A CHW can mean the difference between life or death for individuals with limited access to healthcare resources. In this article, we discuss the role of a CHW in promoting wellness, the qualifications necessary to become one, and the potential for future growth in the healthcare industry.
The Role of a Community Health Worker in Promoting Health and Wellness
Community health workers are key players in facilitating healthcare access in communities where medical professionals are scarce. They often serve as a link between healthcare providers and the community, providing access to localized and culturally sensitive information about health and wellness.
CHWs’ primary role is to offer social support and navigate complex health systems to ensure patients receive the correct care. They might also perform routine medical procedures, such as taking vitals and blood pressure, and triage patients for further medical direction.
8 Key Responsibilities and Functions of a Community Health Worker
CHWs perform a diverse range of responsibilities, often depending on their community’s specific healthcare needs and available resources. There are some common functions and responsibilities of CHWs:
- Developing and maintaining relationships with patients to support their care and navigation of the healthcare system
- Providing basic health education, including medication and treatment regimen adherence, nutrition, and hygiene
- Performing basic first aid and preventative care, such as screenings and immunizations
- Navigating complex healthcare systems to ensure patients obtain appropriate services
- Identifying and triaging patients in need of additional medical attention
- Collecting and recording patients’ medical data and information
- Community organizing, advocacy, and civic engagement on behalf of their local community
- Collaborating with healthcare providers to align care plans with patients’ cultural and social needs
The Impact of Community Health Workers: Stories from the Field
The impact of community health workers is vast and varies, depending on the community they serve. Here are two of many stories demonstrating the importance and impact of CHWs:
Mary Saves Lives
Mary is a dedicated CHW in rural Nigeria. One day, a woman named Nkechi visited Mary. Nkechi’s child was ill, and the closest hospital was a two-hour drive from her village. Mary examined the child and determined that quick emergency intervention was required. Mary quickly liaised with the nearest clinic, where they quickly rushed Nkechi’s child for antibiotics and other treatment. Mary’s swift action saved the child’s life.
Zhang Helps his Community
Zhang is a CHW worker in a remote Chinese village. The village struggled with malnutrition, and children were often sick from eating low-quality food. Zhang collaborated with other partner organizations to establish a small community garden to provide a healthy, sustainable food source. Over time, the garden improved the village’s nutritional status and prevented illness.
Training, Skills, and Qualifications Required to Become a Community Health Worker
The training and qualifications for CHWs vary across regions and countries. However, there are some recurring qualifications necessary to become a CHW:
- A high school diploma is often preferred, but not strictly required
- Successful completion of a recognized training program
- Proficiency in different languages spoken in the CHW’s target communities
- Strong communication skills, including active listening and empathy
- Ability to work without direct supervision
Community Health Workers as a Solution to Addressing Health Disparities
Community health workers play a crucial role in addressing health disparities in underserved communities worldwide. People living in poverty, people of color, immigrant, and refugee populations often have little access to healthcare, making them vulnerable to prevalent health disparities such as chronic illness, obesity, poor nutritional intake, and low vaccine use.
By providing access to basic preventative healthcare, community health workers can improve health outcomes and prevent illness and disease in communities where access to healthcare systems and medical resources is limited.
The Future of Community Health Workers: A Critical Part of the Healthcare System
In recent years, there has been a renewed focus on community health workers as an essential component of the broader healthcare system. Many healthcare providers are recognizing the need to incorporate CHWs into their service delivery system to improve patient outcomes.
For example, some national health care systems now include CHWs in HIV/AIDS intervention programs and have seen positive outcomes. In the United States, numerous states have made efforts to integrate CHWs into their public healthcare systems.
Community health workers play a vital role in promoting public health and wellness. They provide critical services and support to individuals and families in underserved and vulnerable communities worldwide. The future of healthcare demands a more comprehensive approach to ensuring access. Community health workers offer an affordable, cost-effective, and culturally sensitive way to address the public health crises that affect people in underserved communities. It’s time to recognize CHWs’ importance, both in our healthcare policies and as human beings striving to reduce healthcare disparities and save lives.