Women and girls at the heart of the community response to TB

The governments of the UK and US hosted the “Millennium Development Goal Countdown 2013” during the United Nations General Assembly, in New York on 24th September. The event aimed to showcase how girls and women are a force for change in helping the world achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and to showcase inspiring examples of women’s leadership and innovative projects that are transforming societies. A short video summarises progress to date in achieving the MDG targets. The Executive Director of UN Women Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, discussed the importance of harnessing the energy and potential of women and girls in the post 2015 MDG agenda; while UK Secretary of State for International Development, Justine Greening, argued that investing in girls and women led to a virtuous cycle of development.

Female health extension workers lead the way

For Millennium Development Goal 6, “Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases” a single case study was selected “Health heroes: Women taking the lead in health in Ethiopia”. REACHOUT’s Sally Theobald presented the case study on behalf of the Global Fund to fight AIDS, TB and Malaria. REACHOUT is an international research project which is funded by the European Commission, which is working to understand and develop the role of close-to-community providers of health care in preventing, diagnosing, and treating major illnesses and health conditions in rural and urban areas in Africa and Asia. Sally’s case study draws on the work of one of the REACHOUT partners, TB REACH.

Sally highlighted the importance of frontline close-to-community providers of health care in the fight against tuberculosis and other diseases. To date, 37,000 female health extension workers (HEWs) have been recruited, trained and deployed at the local level in Ethiopia. Through the TB REACH project in Sidama, female HEWs collect sputum and prepare smears directly from individuals during their door-to-door community visits and send them to laboratories. Bringing TB diagnostic and treatment services close to communities has increased access, particularly for women, the elderly and children. TB notification rates have doubled and there have been significant improvements in treatment outcomes. The TB REACH project has now been expanded to four additional zones and further scale-up is being planned.

More information on this can be found in the paper, ‘Innovative Community-Based Approaches Doubled Tuberculosis Case Notification and Improve Treatment Outcome in Southern Ethiopia’ , which evaluates the programme.


Sally Theobald is a Senior Lecturer in Social Science and International Health at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine. She has particular experience of researching gender equity in Africa and Asia, including work with close-to-community providers. She recently led a research programme in which 28 institutions funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID) shared best practice in getting HIV and sexual and reproductive health research into policy and practice.

To find out more about the REACHOUT programme you can visit their website or follow them on Twitter.

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