How the Canadian Red Cross is helping vulnerable populations in Mali

By Vanessa Racine, social media coordinator
Since 2012, the Government of Canada has provided funding to a Canadian Red Cross project to support the Mali Red Cross and Mali Ministry of Health in delivering health services to rural communities, with a focus on maternal, newborn and child health. These services are sorely needed as, according to the latest estimates, Mali has some of the highest child and maternal mortality rates in the world.
Mali Red Cross volunteers conducting outreach activities with a group of women and children sitting by a houseThe Mali Red Cross achieved multiple objectives with this funding, such as implementing effective interventions to prevent illness and death in mothers, newborns and children, as well as training community health workers to assess, treat and refer children with malaria, diarrhea, acute respiratory infections and malnutrition.

Another goal is to provide community health workers with essential drug kits to increase community access to life-saving medications, thereby ensuring that communities more than five kilometres from a health centre have access to healthcare. Lastly, community health workers are given training to build their skills and enable them to deliver quality care. Mali Red Cross volunteers have also received training and are equipped with awareness materials to conduct outreach activities for social and behavioural change in their communities.
The project has several desired outcomes, with a main one being to give the rural population access to healthcare services offered at the local level by trained community health workers who can assess and treat sick children.
A Smiling woman sitting with a small child in her arms.
Another main outcome is to build communities’ capacity to prevent the major deadly diseases for children under five and stop cultural practices that are harmful to the health of mothers, young girls and children, such as female genital mutilation and early marriage.
Dr. Jules Zanre, Canadian Red Cross Country Representative in Mali, has been on the ground since 2016 with a team of Canadian Red Cross humanitarian workers to assist with these ongoing efforts. He is responsible for strengthening partnerships with government institutions and other Red Cross Red Crescent Movement partner, coordinating the development and management of Red Cross projects in Mali and following up on their implementation, which includes reporting for the Canadian government.
“I originally decided to get involved with the Red Cross because of its mission in helping the most vulnerable. It’s wonderful to see the organization responding immediately in ways that are tailored to the needs of people who are often extremely vulnerable. It gives me personal satisfaction to be a part of the world’s largest humanitarian organization, this organization of disaster relief responders, who help people in dire circumstances anytime and anywhere.”
All the same, he admits that the global COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically changed the way that they approach implementing projects and interacting with others.
“We’ve had to rethink the way we approach projects to comply with preventive and physical distancing measures,” Dr. Zanre said. “As a result, we’ve revamped the way that we interact with communities by focusing on radio, small group meetings of 10–15 people, including for outreach activities, and increasingly moving online (Zoom, WhatsApp, Teams, Skype, etc.) for worker training, professional meetings, reporting and data collection.”
In addition, the team put into place public health measures to ensure safe access to the clinic by installing handwashing stations and providing information sessions. COVID-19 also impacted the plan to conduct a household survey to evaluate the project. It was deemed a risk for communities as it could potentially increase infection rates. Instead, an alternative plan was developed to use existing data and studies, complemented with interviews with different stakeholders by phone.
In spite of everything, all the projects underway in Mali have seen considerable improvement, and you can hear the pride in Dr. Zanre’s voice when he talks about progress in the country. He’s proud to be on the ground, promoting the Canadian Red Cross outside of Canada and the Canadian government’s efforts for sustainable development. In fact, the project also supported communities to identify 690 female and male role models and coached them on how to change negative attitudes and practices that lead to gender inequalities. This is his greatest pride, the testimonials from communities about how their lives have changed for the better, especially for women and adolescent girls.

“When a village chief says that before the project came to his village, a child under five was dying every week from malaria, and that since the Canadian Red Cross trained and placed a community health worker in the village, the cemetery has been turned into a crop field because so few children die each year, that’s a huge source of pride,” Dr. Zanre said.

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