Rotary’s Family Health Days Featured at the World Bank

Today, in celebration of International Women’s Day, Marion Bunch, the founder of Family Health Days, participated in a well-attended event at the World Bank about inspiring women who made a difference in the world through innovative programs in the areas of education and health. The event was streamed online through World Bank Live, and a recording will soon be available if you missed it. What are family health days? Do these days make sense from a policy point of view? And who is Marion Bunch? This blog post answers these three questions.

Family Health days

What are family health days?

Imagine hundreds of thousands of families and individuals getting free health care for two or three days. Family Health Days makes this feasible. Individuals and families can be tested for HIV/AIDs as well as receive counseling. Testing and/or screening for tuberculosis, diabetes, high blood pressure, and other conditions such as cervical and breast cancer is provided. Children receive immunizations as well as Vitamin A supplements. Some sites also include dental clinic and hygiene education as well as eye examinations. Health counseling is also provided.

The program was launched in 2011 and is now active in a half dozen countries in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. The program is led by Rotary in partnership with the Coca-Cola Africa Foundation, the U.S. Mission – including the Centers for Disease Control, USAID and the health service delivery expertise of their implementing partners – and Ministries of Health that provide services and supplies at the sites. Media partners promote the days in each of the countries. Thousands of volunteers in each country, including many Rotarians, help in various ways.

Do family or child health days make sense from a policy point of view?

Intrigued by the concept of family health days, I conducted a rapid search of the literature and found that for purposes such as screening for illnesses and child immunization, holding such days appears to make a lot of sense. This type of programs appear to be beneficial and cost effective if implemented well.

For example, Fiedler and Chuko looked at the reach and cost of child health days in Ethiopia in 2008. They found that the program reached more than 10 million children at an average cost of half a dollar per child (one dollar when including measles). This made the program cost-effective, with potential additional benefits to be reaped through economies of scope in increasing coverage at delivery sites.

Palmer and others note in a 2010 article that child health days are becoming increasingly popular, implemented in more than 50 countries at the time of the study. They conclude that the days are helping countries achieve high and equitable coverage of essential health and nutrition services. Child health days were also recognized as beneficial in a 2013 World Health Organization report on essential nutrition actions for improving maternal, newborn, infant, and young child health and nutrition.

Improvements could be made, however. In a 2012 review of experiences integrating the delivery of maternal and child health services with childhood immunization programs, Wallace, Ryman, and Dietz emphasize the importance of proper planning and awareness when implementing these interventions, among other actions to reduce the risks of logistical difficulties, time-intensive interventions ill-suited for campaign delivery, concerns about harming existing services, and overlap of target age groups with other service delivery mechanisms. The review also revealed gaps in information about costs and impacts.

On costs, a 2014 paper by Fiedler and Semakula suggests that part of the reason why costs may appear so low in some countries (US$0.22 per child in their analysis for Uganda) is because of underpayment for Ministry of Health staff and volunteer allowances. Still, the authors find that child health days are successful in saving lives, making them highly cost-effective. Vijayaraghavan and others in a case study for Somalia also find child health days to be cost-effective in addressing leading causes of child mortality in a conflict settings. They rate child health days as one of health sector’s best buys in sub-Saharan Africa.

Who is Marion Bunch?

What is also interesting – especially as we celebrate International Women’s Day and the power of women to make a difference in the life of the less fortunate, is the personal story of Marion Bunch. Marion is the Chief Executive Officer of the Rotarian Action Group Rotarians for Family Health & AIDS Prevention. She has received numerous awards on behalf of her work for AIDS. But first and foremost, she simply considers herself a mother who helps in representing the human face of AIDS. She started her work after losing her son to the disease in 1994. As she explained it in an interview. “I never thought I’d do anything about it until one day, three years after his death, I felt a tap on the shoulder, and a voice in my ear said, ‘Mom, get up and get going; you haven’t done anything, and it’s been three years.’” Since then, the reach of Family Health days has expanded every year, in close partnership with Ministries of Health in the countries where the program is running. Marion’s story has been told in a documentary film that won two 2015 Telly Awards.

What can be learned from Marion’s project?

On the occasion of International Women’s Day, at least two important lessons emerge her project. The first lesson is that we can expand access to health care for children and families through Child and Family health Days, and we should invest in the expansion of these programs. But the second and most important lesson is that beyond the important role of the state that we often emphasize in development work, committed individuals can truly make a difference in the life of the less fortunate. The theme of the event at the World Bank was “Inspiring Women of Action”. There is no doubt that Marion is such a woman.

If you were not able to watch the event live, a recording will soon be made available here.

This post is adapted from a post published today on the World Bank’s Investing in Health blog.

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