Half of deaths in children under five are caused by malaria, pneumonia, diarrhoea and newborn conditions; more than a third of these deaths are linked to malnutrition. It is often the case that access to quality health care is hardest in areas where the need is greatest. In many rural areas, distance and poverty mean a sick child may not make it to the nearest health facility in time to receive appropriate treatment.
Working with the community to tackle these challenges in access to treatment has become a major focus for many governments around the world. Many governments in sub-Saharan Africa are working to train selected community members in the skills required to diagnose, treat and, in serious cases, refer young children suffering from these three diseases. This brings essential health care for the most vulnerable right to their doorstep – bringing skills to the community, reducing the burden on overstretched health facilities and, most importantly of all, saving lives by saving time.
The approach, known as integrated community case management, or ICCM, centres around the idea that the most common childhood killers can be readily diagnosed and treated by people within the community, including those with limited education and medical training.
Research has shown that iCCM has the potential to decrease childhood mortality from these three diseases by 60 percent. In a joint statement released in 2012 by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) it is stated that appropriately trained community health workers, who are supported, supervised and provided with a continuous supply of medicines and equipment can identify and appropriately treat children with diarrhoea, pneumonia and malaria.
Malaria Consortium has supported Ministries of Health to train and equip community health workers in Mozambique, South Sudan, Uganda and Zambia to diagnose and treat the three common childhood illnesses or refer sick newborns and severe cases to the nearest health facility.
ICCM can only be effective as part of a wider health systems strengthening approach; for this reason implementing governments need to ensure appropriate policies are in place and that CHWs are well-trained and equipped, supported by the formal health system and motivated in order to provide high quality care.
Read more about ICCM in our learning papers on the subject: