Bangladesh has made tremendous progress in healthcare, but what does that mean to the most deprived communities? Despite its achievements, the harder to reach areas are still lagging behind, the poorer are lagging behind the richer, and women are lagging behind men. The results of the country’s achievements have not been uniform. The major challenge being access to basic health care. The most vulnerable and marginalized populations are either residing in extremely hard to reach areas or in urban slums – and they- have minimal, if at all, access to basic healthcare. They don’t care how much Bangladesh has progressed, because their lives have not. Their sufferings have not. Their only ray of hope are the frontline health workers, who provide not just basic healthcare, but heaps of inspiration and support.

Jahanara Akter

The story of a Front-line Health Worker

Her name is Jahanara Akter. She is the beacon of hope for the villagers residing in the small huts crisscrossed by the wetlands in the north of Bangladesh. Jahanara is a local hero. Working as a government Community Health Worker (CHW) since the last 25 years or more. She devotes her time from dawn to dusk in developing better health conditions to the extremely hard to reach areas in Bangladesh. Jahanara has been counseling families on delivering a child at a health facility by a skilled birth attendant, taking family planning methods, nutrition for mothers and children, children’s illnesses and caring for pregnant mothers and newborn babies in the community. The most challenging task is changing the prevailing attitude of the mothers in the village towards healthcare. Jahanara plays a very critical role in her area in reducing maternal and child deaths in some of the world’s ‘hardest to reach’ places. She is an icon and an inspiration for other health workers to follow.

The Journey Everyday

“Reaching the unreachable. That is my job. Even in the storm, the rain and under the scorching sun-I cross all the barriers to reach the hard to reach places. I try my best to encourage the families to attend the health facilities for any health care needs. The most challenging task is to change the mindset and attitude of the pregnant mothers and their families. But it is not impossible. There are many mothers who listen to me and take adequate care. But for that I need to regularly visit the households and motivate them. I believe together we can change this attitude towards health that the mothers hold in the villages.”- Jahanara Akter

Jahanara plans her daily activities and tasks. In the morning on her way to the health facility, Jahanara knocks door to door to find out and follow up on the pregnant mothers, newborns and child illnesses. During her household visits, she provides counselling to pregnant women, new mother about their healthcare. Jahanara starts her journey very early in the morning around 7 o’clock- first by walking. After a good hour of walk, she takes a three wheeler rickshaw as she approaches the narrow mud pathways. Soon after, she is required to cross a river by a boat to meet some of the most hard to reach mothers. Some of the villages she visits is 25 kms away from her home. There is no other alternative transport except by boat and then by foot once again.

In many instances, the boat is not available in which case she has to wait for long hours till she resumes her commute. Reaching the mothers can get very tedious and tiring. During the monsoon season the roads conditions are terrible, making it even more difficult for her to commute. In the rainy season the roads get submerged completely or become too muddy to pass. The mud pathways are difficult to walk in, rickshaws don’t want to go there either. However, Jahanara is prepared for these challenges because she knows just how important and lifesaving her work is. At dawn, when she goes back home after all the hurdle she is happy and satisfied.

“At the end of the day when I return home I am very tired. However I go back home with a sense of fulfillment. I have become everybody’s loved Jahanara- I am able to bring smiles on the faces of mothers and children. I want to continue doing what I do and through this I want to encourage and inspire other health workers to do the same. So that more mothers and children have access to health services, no matter how far they are.”- Jahana Akter frontline health worker from the most remote hard to reach areas of Bangladesh.