By Stephanie Murphy, with Dr. Lillian Nyamuda

When faced with the challenge of reaching people in remote communities sometimes the best option is also low-tech. Here’s how the Red Cross is delivering healthcare in South Sudan, with the help of bicycles. 

Women and children often suffer the most when a country endures conflict. South Sudan, which has one of the highest child-mortality rates in the world, is no exception. Years of internal conflict have deteriorated the country’s health care system, making it difficult for many of the country’s 12 million citizens, especially those in remote villages, to get health care when they need it.

That’s where local, community-based health care can make all the difference when it comes to improving people’s quality of life. South Sudan Red Cross, in partnership with the Canadian Red Cross, is implementing a community-based health care project called “Improving maternal, newborn and child survival” in Gogrial, South Sudan. Funded with support from the Government of Canada, this project incorporates many programmes the Red Cross has found essential in regions lacking basic health care. It focuses on integrated community case management of childhood illnesses; water, sanitation and hygiene; health promotion; mobile clinics; epidemic control; and contingency planning and response. A key focus of the project is the treatment of malaria, pneumonia and diarrhoea – the main childhood illnesses – at the community level for children under five years old.

Providing health care is not the only part of the equation, that health care must also be accessible to all those who need it. Community volunteers are an essential aspect of this effort; community health workers perform a supervisory role, while home health promoters serve households within a single village.

As supervisors, these community health workers are required to be mobile, as they cover a larger area than home health promoters. To give this project mobility, 90 bicycles were purchased for the project at the beginning of this year.  Along with the securing drugs and supplies, as well as recruiting and training volunteers, the bicycles form a key component of the project. With 90 community health workers supervising more than 1,700 home health promoters, the mobility bicycles provide is indispensable to the programme’s success.

One community health worker in Kuac South said that the bicycles make it “easy to monitor and supervise activities at the village level,” while another in Kuac South Payam says “it’s very good [to have the bicycles] to refer very sick children to nearby health facilities.”

The bicycles also allow community health workers to reach more villages – and therefore more children are being reached with life-saving medicine and health expertise. Moving forward, they will remain the responsibility of the local communities. This, combined with the work of local volunteers, will give communities a sense of autonomy, providing them with the resources and expertise they need to improve the quality of life for their children.

This story was first published by the Canadian Red Cross on their website.