‘A higher calling.’ Community health workers boost health, hygiene and dignity in Tanzania

tz Health worker

By Aidan Tarimo

DAR-ES-SALAAM, Tanzania - Samuel Chitute has long been the face of health, safety and sanitation in his community.

As a community health worker serving in the remote district of Bahi, he speaks with local people in their own languages, not just Kswahili, one of Tanzania’s most widely used languages.

“Here in [the village of] Nondwa, houses are not close. Sometimes they are spaced up to four kilometers apart,” Samuel explains.

Since 1998, Samuel has gone from house to house, speaking with people about life-saving health and sanitation issues, including the need for handwashing, the hygienic use of toilets, waste management and water treatment.

“It’s not easy to get people to abandon the ways they have been living for years. Changes are gradual, but I believe they are happening,” he says.

Community health workers like Samuel were recruited to help link vulnerable populations to Tanzania’s health system. They offer culturally appropriate health information on chronic disease prevention, nutrition, informal counseling and also provide referrals to medical doctors.

Working with health authorities and international partners, community health workers also help collect data on sanitation and hygiene, to feed into local and national policies and initiatives.

“Serving my community is a higher calling in my life,” Samuel says. “I got this knowledge for free, so I have a duty to help and serve others.”

Safety, hygiene and comfort

Samuel has been trained in first aid, nutrition, midwifery, vaccinations, environmental health and a number of neglected tropical diseases, and, in 2016, he was trained on how to make safe, concrete toilet slabs through Tanzania’s Sanitation and Hygiene Programme (UMATA).

The UMATA programme, supported by WSSCC’s Global Sanitation Fund, has so far trained 346 artisans, who pass on the knowledge and skills to their often remote and marginalized communities to improve safety, hygiene and comfort.

“We are often invited to speak at public gatherings. We talk about sanitation and hygiene, especially on how to build improved latrines and handwashing facilities,” Samuel says.

“We also show them different technological options. So, we go with cement, wire mesh, sand and stones to show them how slabs are made.”

“The comfort and dignity of using a clean toilet is what everyone wants. The safety of being on a pit that is covered by a slab made of concrete is, of course, much better than mud.”

In 2019, Samuel’s village of Nondwa improved the most toilets in his entire district.

As a result, they were given 10 more bags of cement, as well as SaTo toilet pans (SaTo is derived from the words safe toilet), which help to save water, keep flies at bay and stave off odors.

In the face of COVID-19 the UMATA Programme, in partnership with the Ministry of Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly People and Children, is training community health workers like Samuel on how to protect communities from the virus.