For far too long, communities in vulnerable situations have viewed quality healthcare as a luxury, requiring travelling long distances and spending vast sums of money. Through our essential healthcare programme, we ensure that millions of households across the country have access to a mix of effective and affordable healthcare services through frontline community health volunteers known as shasthya shebikas.
Adopting the ‘barefoot doctor’ approach used in China, we were the first to recruit and train local women to promote family planning services and provide health and hygiene education in our Sulla programme in Sylhet during the 1970s. Despite training community health volunteers ever since, it was not until 1991 when a major expansion finally established this integrated approach. Generating sustainable, local solutions, the model has grown gradually from serving 1.6 million people to currently serving 110 million people across 61 districts.
During their household visits, the role of community health volunteers is to provide health promotion sessions and educate families on a range of health issues. During this time they also carry their health commodity basket and take basic products to people’s doorstep in return for a nominal fee.
Health commodity baskets include basic medicine, sanitary napkins and hygiene products. Community health volunteers also work as a crucial point for the nationwide referral network for complicated cases, with government and BRAC health centres respectively. The essential healthcare service package includes health and nutrition, and water and sanitation education, along with family planning and pregnancy-related care, management of common communicable and non-communicable diseases, curative care for common ailments and community mobilisation for immunisation. Communities are also linked to national programmes such as vitamin A supplementation and family planning through the essential healthcare channels.