April 6, 2017

Laying the groundwork for healthy communities

Written by Cecil Haverkamp, Kesa Dikgole, and Thapelo Manale

This article originally appeared on USAID ASSIST. Reposted with permission.

(Ms. Thalitha Tiro presenting results of improvement efforts by the Boikanyo community team in Gaborone. Photo by URC Botswana)

April 2 – 8, 2017 marks World Health Worker Week. We’re honoring health workers in this blog series. Today’s theme, “On the Front Lines of Disease.”

Ms. Thalitha Tiro is a lively and energetic social worker, currently working as a Health Education Assistant (HEA) at the Julia Molefhe Clinic in Gaborone, the capital of Botswana. The introduction of HEAs in recent years is a reflection of Botswana’s determination to revitalize primary health care, returning it to the way it was in the years prior to the emergency response to HIV/AIDS, when facilities had a strong link to the community.

She has been a social worker for the past 22 years, fully dedicated to the welfare of communities across the country. Originally from Gulubale village in the North Eastern part of Botswana, she is the eldest of 8 children and now has three children and three grandchildren herself.

Since 2016, Ms. Tiro has also been playing a key role in efforts to revive and strengthen community health system structures as member of the Boikanyo community improvement team. With the support from improvement coaches at the USAID ASSIST project, Boikanyo is reviving active collaboration between the community and Ms. Tiro’s clinic as part of a joint government and PEPFAR effort to strengthen the community health system response to HIV/AIDS.

We met Ms. Tiro for a brief interview ahead of World Health Worker Week.

What inspired you to become a health worker?

“I was very active in sports and during my years in school and I would sometimes serve as a First Aider, helping to care for other students’ sports injuries. That’s when I first got introduced to the field. My mother also encouraged me to become a health worker upon realizing that I had an interest in the field.”

What values underlie your work with the people and the communities you serve?

“Often we [health workers] have been telling people what to do, like we are barking orders at them. But what I have learned in my many years working as a social worker is that they [patients] like to be consulted, so that they don’t turn on you one day and say that they didn’t know what was happening. Being a health worker has opened my mind and turned me into a patient person because as social workers involved in primary health care you have to be able to relate to different people from all walks of life.

Health should be addressed from the grassroots level. Our primary concern should be prevention, not cure. In the current situation in Botswana, I noticed that we are more concerned about the curative part. Primary health care is the key to reducing the number of new infections and illnesses in clinics and hospitals, and for people to live longer and healthier lives. It has been proven scientifically that when you spend more on a child at an early age, teaching him or her on health matters, you will spend less time on their health when they grow up.”

What are the most challenging aspects of being a health worker in Botswana?

“The health field in Botswana is challenged by a shortage of staff, partially because some health workers end up going to other countries for better salaries and benefits. I believe one should only get into a field because it has a special place in your heart – whichever career you choose. I got into the health sector because I love health and believe that primary health care is very important – and it is often overlooked, and in turn, lags behind.”

Thalitha Tiro concluded with a Setswana proverb:

Pitsa gae e budule a nale batshodi rona re ha go apaya.

(We are just here to lay down the groundwork for future generations.)