For many kids in sub-Saharan Africa, fevers are often the first sign of serious health issues like malaria or pneumonia—both are leading causes of death among children in the developing world. During a recent visit to Cameroon I learned that malaria was the number one reason children didn’t live to celebrate their fifth birthday. The disease was responsible for more than 40 percent of deaths in health care facilities across the country.

I met countless parents, grandparents, and health workers who cope with the reality that the communities they grew up in, and the people they love, are being ravaged by diseases that are not only preventable—they’re treatable.

As an Ambassador for the global health organization PSI, I am so happy to know that our community case management programs —supported by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA)—are working with Ministries of Health in Cameroon and three other countries to address health threats like malaria, pneumonia and diarrhea, particularly among children right in their affected communities.

The programs operate in large rural areas and reach populations of about 8 million people, most of whom have a difficult time getting access to a health facility that can meet their most basic health needs. By training health workers to provide diagnosis, treatment and referral services in communities, more people have access to the health care they need. As a result, they are also more informed about the diseases that are most prevalent in their community.

During my trip to Cameroon, I travelled to the small town of Ebanga Ouest, where I met a community health worker named Atangana Manga who asked me to tell his story every chance I get.

Atangana is a farmer, but he also serves as a volunteer community health worker for his village because he said he’s driven by a mission to prevent needless deaths, and to make sure everyone in his community has access to the health care they need.

Because he’s equipped with training and medical supplies from the CIDA-funded project, people are getting the care they need. Having someone that can provide this type care in the community helps to avoid the need for long, difficult journeys to the nearest health clinic. Atangana is a proud man. He spoke very clearly and with great projection. In another life he could easily have been a stage actor, a preacher or a motivational speaker. He had our group enraptured with the explanation of his work. I could see why he was so effective as a health worker.

I visited a district health center outside of Ebanga Ouest, where doctors and nurses told me that they rarely see severe cases of malaria and diarrhea anymore, due to the timely treatment and advice provided by Atangana and other community health workers in surrounding villages.

It’s hard not to want to help when you hear his story. I am so grateful for the generosity Canadian citizens have shown by supporting Atangana’s mission, and the mission of so many other community health workers.

But despite the efforts of community health workers, malaria, pneumonia and diarrhea are still among the leading causes of death for children across sub-Saharan Africa. We need to continue support for community health volunteers that are working to prevent, diagnose and treat the diseases that are threatening the future generations of their communities.

For too many people, life saving interventions are still too expensive or simply not available. Parents are forced to cling to the hope that they or their children don’t wake up in the middle of the night with a fever that could very well lead to death. That is why we are raising awareness and funds for this important issue.

Child survival is seen as one of development’s most impressive stories. In just the past 50 years, child mortality has plummeted by 70 percent. In two decades we’ve cut the number of children who die each year by more than 4 million.

With support from individuals, and organizations like CIDA and others, we will be able to give more children a chance to survive childhood and reach their full potential.

It costs PSI on average $29.19 USD to add a year of healthy life for a child by making sure that the health interventions they need the most are available to them.
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By Ashley Judd