By Stephanie Murphy, with Dr. Lillian Nyamuda

When faced with the challenge of reaching people in remote communities sometimes the best option is also pretty low-tech. Here’s how the Red Cross is delivering healthcare, 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 to this. Years of internal conflict have deteriorated the country’s healthcare system, making it difficult for many of the country’s 12 million citizens, especially those in remote villages, to get healthcare when they need it.

That’s where local, community-based healthcare can make all the difference when it comes to improving people’s quality of life.

The South Sudan Red Cross, in partnership with the Canadian Red Cross, is implementing a community-based healthcare project called “Improving Maternal, Newborn and Child Survival” in Gogrial, South Sudan. Funded with support from the Government of Canada, this project incorporates many programs the Red Cross has found essential in regions lacking basic healthcare. It focuses on Integrated Community Case Management (iCCM) 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 healthcare is not the only part of the equation, that healthcare must also be accessible to those who need it. Community volunteers are an essential aspect of this effort; community health workers (CHWs) perform a supervisory role, while home health promotors (HHPs) serve households within a single village.

As supervisors, the CHWs are required to be mobile, as they cover a larger area than HHPs. To give this project mobility, 90 bicycles were acquired in January.  Along with the securing drugs and supplies, as well as recruiting and training volunteers, the bicycles form a key component of the iCCM project. With 90 CHWs supervising more than 1,700 HHPs, the mobility bicycles provide is indispensable to the program’s success.

The bicycles were a welcome addition both to the CHWs, and to the communities they serve. One CHW in Kuac South said that the bicycles make it “easy to monitor and supervise HHP 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 will allow the CHWs 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.