Providing African health workers with mobility ‘skills for life’

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Riders for Health enable vital health services to be delivered in hard-to-reach rural communities in Africa. All photos copyright: Riders for Health
Riders for Health enable vital health services to be delivered in hard-to-reach rural communities in Africa. All photos copyright: Riders for Health
The ‘skills for life’ project has provided road safety and motorcycle maintenance training to 30 health workers, enabling a ‘train the trainers’ cascade. All photos copyright: Riders for Health
The ‘skills for life’ project has provided road safety and motorcycle maintenance training to 30 health workers, enabling a ‘train the trainers’ cascade. All photos copyright: Riders for Health

Riders for Health, a social enterprise that manages and maintains vehicles for health-focused partners in sub-Saharan Africa, has been able to train 30 community health professionals to safely ride motorcycles and carry out preventive maintenance checks, through a grant from the FIA Foundation.

With co-funding from the FIA Foundation, during 2014-15, Riders for Health has run the Skills for Life project, which aims to improve the access to life-saving public health care by training health workers to ride safely. The project trains health care workers to use and maintain motorcycles. It also focuses on fuel management, preventive maintenance, repair and replacement of parts. Health workers from different health service delivery organisations including KEMRI-SEARCH (The Kenya Medical Research Institute), Population Services International (PSI), and Crown Agents Zimbabwe, have been benefiting through the training provided by Riders for Health. The project has trained 30 community outreach workers, from Kenya and Zimbabwe, on safe riding of motorcycles and carry out preventive maintenance checks, to ensure health service delivery and data collection work, delivering a wide range of critical and preventive health care measures.

Privilege Munyanyi is a health worker in Midlands Province, Zimbabwe, and relies on her motorcycle to reach out to rural communities to deliver health services to rural communities. Zimbabwe’s severe shortage of health care workers is exacerbated by the treacherous travel they undertake to reach rural communities. Privilege works with the Joined Hands Welfare Organisation (JHWO), a community organisation that aims to eliminate diseases like HIV/AIDS and also reduce infant mortality. To deliver health services to people in rural and often remotely accessible communities, health workers like Privilege have to rely on effective transportation.

Privilege had no previous experience in riding motorcycles before the FIA Foundation supported Skills for Life project started. Now trained to ride, Privilege - along with 29 other community health workers – is able to undertake duties such as HIV/AIDS home based care, community education for the prevention of HIV, general health education for the prevention of infant deaths and delivery of preventive measures for malaria. Another trainee, Masole Nare Gwanda, also from Zimbabwe, feels that the motorcycle riding skills he has acquired has made the areas he visits significantly more accessible and improved the safety with which he can conduct his daily duties.

The Skills for Life project has also enabled the consolidation and formalisation of Riders’ training curriculum. This has strengthened expertise in conducting riding training along with providing future trainees with a comprehensive and easy-to-use manual to take away with them once training is completed. This has been particularly timely as Riders for Health in 2015 initiated a new programme in Liberia, helping the Ministry of Health to strengthen their health system in the wake of the Ebola crisis, by training up to 350 health workers. Skills for Life has also successfully delivered an in-depth advanced ‘training of trainers’ course to 11 selected trainers from across the Riders’ programmes – ensuring that capacity to train is continuously strengthened.

To understand the impact of its fleet management approach, in 2014, Riders for Health commissioned a 2.5-year randomized-control study, undertaken by the Stanford Graduate School of Business. The study found that systematic management of motorcycles used by health care workers to reach far-flung rural villages improved the Ministry of Health’s system performance in Zambia. It also concluded that with effective fleet management, health professionals are able to cover distances of up to ten kilometres further as a result of their motorcycle, meaning they can visit more communities, more frequently, and they will be able to see up to 30 more people per visit in the communities they serve.

Rural health care facilities are designed to reach people with basic health care services. Yet, people can find it difficult to get to clinics several kilometres from home when they rely on walking, or, in some cases, riding a bicycle to get there. Without safe and reliable transport systems, access to health care services to rural population remains a challenge. Further, the lack of access can also render the huge investments being made in public health unworkable. The Foundation’s support for the Skills for Life project demonstrates the impact effective transport can have on health service delivery, which often is the missing link for the delivery of public health care across rural communities in Africa.