Maternal and Child Health

Changing Maternal and Child Health - Celebrating 20 Years of Care Groups

Dr. Pieter Ernst with Care Group volunteers in Mozambique
Dr. Pieter Ernst with Care Group volunteers in Mozambique

In 1995, a small group of thoughtful people noticed an injustice and were not content to sit back and wait for someone else to do something about it. The problem was that too many women and children were dying from preventable and treatable diseases. 12.7 million children under the age of five died in 1990 alone. Dr. Pieter Ernst worked with World Relief in Mozambique at the time and saw firsthand the unnecessary suffering of women and children. But he knew the potential existed to combat this injustice. All that was needed was some initial training and teaching of health practices and treatments and then local citizens could implement what they had learned. So the Care Group movement was created.

This award winning model of healthcare provides regular health training to groups of 10-15 volunteers in each community. These volunteers, mostly women, are taught the simple health practices like washing hands as well as how to treat and prevent serious illnesses like malaria, diarrhea and pneumonia. Each volunteer is then responsible for visiting 10-15 of their neighbors regularly, sharing what they’ve learned and caring for any illnesses they come across. This multiplying process not only helps save lives, but the entire community becomes aware of how to prevent these illnesses before they start.

As we celebrate 20 years of Care Groups, we commemorate the millions of lives that have been saved by this method of effective grassroots health education. It’s played an important role in contributing to progress on the Millennium Development Goal of significantly reducing child mortality and USAID's call to End Preventable Child and Maternal Deaths. Recognized as an innovative program, Care Groups have been implemented by more than 25 organizations in over 25 countries.

People like Miseria and her daughter, Lucrencia, know firsthand the kind of life-saving impact Care Groups have. Lucrencia is the youngest of 7 children and was chronically malnourished, thin and unable to walk as an 18 month old. Children in that state used to die because of local traditional beliefs that the disease was caused by spirits that sat on the child, preventing it from growing. But when a local Care Group Volunteer visited their home, she immediately recognized the problem and included mom and daughter in a community training about preparing enriched meals with locally available ingredients to improve the nutrition of malnourished children. Several years later, Lucrencia is an energetic and healthy teenager who is a huge help to her mother.

Miseria and her daughter Lucrencia
Miseria and her daughter Lucrencia

One of the local Care Group trainers recently commented, “After seeing Miseria and her once malnourished child Lucrencia at the brink of death, now full of joy and growing into womanhood I could only thank God for what He has done, not only for Lucrencia, but also for so many other families with similar experiences in Gaza Province (Mozambique) through the World Relief Care Group program.”

To join us in this movement of life-saving empowerment, visit

Empower a Hero: Emily in Kenya


Emily Seteyio is dedicated to reducing the high infant mortality rate in Kenya, and she’s going the distance to make it happen. She used to regularly walk six miles to protect just one baby from HIV. More than 1.6 million Kenyans are living with HIV, but pregnant women and their babies are especially vulnerable to the disease. Prenatal care and hospital births reduce the chances of mother-to-child transmission. But neither of those are common practice for women living in remote areas.

Because doctors and nurses are out of reach, rural women often turn to traditional birth attendants to assist them during labor. Unfortunately, many attendants don’t have the proper equipment or training to prevent HIV transmission between the mothers and infants under their care.

Emily in Kenya
Emily in Kenya

So Emily stands with the vulnerable women of Kajiado, Kenya. She empowers them with the resources they need to have safe deliveries and healthy babies – even when the mothers are HIV positive. Since 2012, she’s served as a community health worker after training from World Relief Kenya. Emily volunteered for the role because she was concerned about the mothers in remote areas who were without access to quality care.

Emily visits mothers in their homes and counsels them about the benefits of giving birth in health centers. “In the hospital, there are gloves and equipment that prevent the spread of HIV from the health caregivers to the mother and child,” Emily said.

Pastors often serve as vital links between community health workers and vulnerable mothers. Through collaboration with a local pastor, Emily was able to make sure one high-risk woman had transportation to the health facility for the birth.

But during her pregnancy, Emily would regularly walk six miles from the health facility to the woman’s remote village. Since she was HIV positive, Emily encouraged her to give birth in a health center so her baby could live free from the virus.

Eventually, the woman delivered a healthy baby boy in the health facility, despite her high-risk pregnancy. This wouldn’t have been possible without Emily’s dedication – and the support of the local church.

Check back each week in January to meet more heroes like Emily – women and men standing for justice in the most vulnerable places around the world. Join the movement at today!

Health for the Future: Care Groups Make a Mark


When Dr. Pieter Ernst, a World Relief Project Director in Mozambique, saw the suffering of women and children from preventable and treatable diseases, he knew there needed to be a solution. And the awakening of healthier communities through education and more sustainable efforts is just what the doctor ordered. Following a 17-year civil war in the Gaza Province of Mozambique, the Care Group Model developed out of World Relief’s first Child Survival Project. Dr. Ernst designed a way to reach a large group of people through generating a network of volunteers within each community.

With this, the need for a more comprehensive method to engage community members in becoming educators and leaders who support and encourage one another grew at a steady rate. Care Group numbers multiplied as a small project staff grew in the ability to reach a larger population. Without straining individual volunteers, Care Groups mobilized communities to address various health issues and take extensive action.

Since its formation in 1995, the Care Group Model has been adopted by 23 NGOs and implemented in over 21 countries. In 2009, this model reached over 44% of the total population of Mozambique and nurtured relationships that continue to thrive today. All over the world, this sustainable system has:

  1. Decreased infant mortality rate
  2. Increased uses of modern family planning methods
  3. Provided children with up-to-date immunizations

ALL while creating a lasting and continual difference within communities.

Dr. Ernst recently received the 2014 Dory Storms Child Survival Recognition Award for the design of the revolutionary Care Group Model. Together with Dr. Ernst and others who have participated in the Care Group Model, World Relief will celebrate 20 years of this innovative project in 2015.

Through this program, we have seen God do great things in countries and communities where health information is seldom provided. Simple explanations can truly change countries and empower people to become heroes in their communities.

Giving Thanks: From a Mother in Burundi


Earlier this month, we shared the story of Capitoline, a hero who’s saving the lives of many children in her community in Burundi.  Now, we get to share the story of a grateful mother who knows firsthand just how important Capitoline’s skills and care are. “Nobody can love and take care of our children the way Capitoline does,” Emmanuella said, as she thought of the time her 17-month-old came down with a high fever and had convulsions in the middle of the night.  She and her husband were afraid - these were signs of malaria, a disease that is preventable and treatable, yet often deadly in Burundi.

But Emmanuella knew her neighbor, Capitoline, was a community health worker trained by World Relief. So in the early morning hours, the family ran to Capitoline’s house nearby for help.  She was able to immediately give Emmanuella’s child the proper medications, which led to recovery just three days later.

In the past, Emmanuella had taken her children to the hospital when they were sick. But a trip to the local hospital was a significant journey on foot, and they would often have to wait to even be admitted once they arrived. Capitoline’s medical training meant that Emmanuella and her family didn’t have to wait a long time to receive treatment – time that can mean the difference between life and death.

World Relief has trained hundreds of other community health workers like Capitoline, who are always ready and willing to help their neighbors.  In addition to diagnosing and treating different diseases, they also educate their neighbors about simple hygiene practices that promote good health for every-day living.

Emmanuella knows that health workers like Capitoline are invaluable: “We thank God that we now have a community health worker in our neighborhood.”

To give thanks and empower more heroes like Capitoline, visit

A friendship that brought life

Proverbs 17:17 says,"A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity." World Relief empowers the local Church in Mozambique to serve the most vulnerable by training community health workers to provide in-home care for the marginalized. Often, these volunteers provide lasting friendship to the people they serve, meeting not only their health needs but their spiritual and relational needs as well.

Esmeralda Fernandowas in a very vulnerable state before a trained community health worker reached out to her and helped her achieve a better quality of life. She has HIV/AIDS and Tuberculosis. At only 22 years old, she is a widow and a single parent to her seven year-old child. Her husband passed away in 2013.

When she was first visited by the volunteer, Esmerelda and her husband both knew they had HIV/AIDS but had not been adhering to treatment. After her husband passed away, Esmerelda began heeding the words of the volunteer.

“When she first came to talk about our health and our possibility to re-start our normal life if we do regular treatment, we didn’t believe her because, for us, our life was close to the end," said Esmerelda. "When my husband passed away, [she] visited me more times and one day asked me who is going to take care of my child if I die.”

The community health worker helped Esmerelda realize that her health was fragile, precious and vital for the well-being of her daughter. Esmerelda began treatment and today, her health has improved.

Esmerelda Mozambique

When we spoke to her, Esmeralda Fernando had a lot to say about the volunteer who showed her the love of Christ in word and deed. “I feel relief because of the work [she] did in my life,” she said. “She is like a sister to me. I decided to restart the treatment again and with the support of the [health worker] and my relatives even, [though we were not] sure of the results.”

The volunteer also helped Esmerelda enroll her daughter in school and obtain necessary school supplies. “Today, I am feeling good,” said Esmerelda. “I farm and produce my own food. I and my child are very happy and I am thankful too because it was able to help enroll my child in the school I also was able to learn a lot about community health. I am willing to pass the message to other people in the community."

World Relief in Burundi: Maternal & Child Health


In Burundi, approximately 58 percent of children under the age of 5 suffer from chronic malnutrition. Malnutrition is associated with serious medical issues later in life as well as lower education attainment, lower earnings and more prevalent violence. It is a result of poor nutritional practices, limited access to food, minimal dietary diversity and chronic illness. Because 80 percent of Burundians live on less than $1.25 per day and have limited access to the most basic financial services, poverty compounds these vulnerabilities and contributes to a cycle of malnutrition in households. World Relief is empowering the local church to serve the most vulnerable in Burundi and meet the holistic physical, spiritual and relational needs that exist. World Relief provides long-term training and supervision of staff and government officials, who in turn train Health Workers and mothers to promote better health practices in the community through behavioral transformation. Concurrently, World Relief works with the Ministry of Agriculture to train Community Health Workers on the operation and development of small gardens for women to grow food and improve household nutrition and dietary diversity. World Relief also works in partnership with church network Dutabarane to provide crucial financial instruments to the poor through Village Savings and Loans Associations.


Marasmus is a form of severe malnutrition caused by a deficiency in calories and energy.Félicité Havyarimana, a young woman from the central province of Gitega, had witnessed the effects of the disease in the life of her son, Alfred, ever since he was one year old. She said, “I was sad and desperate, not knowing what to do. In my despair, I turned to traditional healers, convinced that someone had cast a curse on my child.”

When a volunteer from World Relief’s Child Survival Program visited Félicité and examined her son, she explained that Alfred was suffering from malnutrition and that it could be cured. “I didn’t believe her, of course,” said Félicité. “Nevertheless, since nothing had worked so far, I started to follow her advice on health and nutrition, even if I wasn’t really convinced”.

A month later, Alfred began gaining weight and his health began improving. Encouraged, Félicité began participating in World Relief’s cooking workshops, where she learned about the components and preparation of well-balanced meals. “The lessons were really helpful to my children, especially to Alfred who was totally cured and went back to his normal weight,” said Félicité.

Almost three years old, Alfred is now a healthy child who, like many of his peers in the province, has benefited from World Relief’s Maternal & Child Health program. Félicité said that the program opened her eyes to the mistakes she did not know she was making when it came to the nutrition and health of her children. “Now,” she said, “I try as much as possible to keep them on a healthy and well-balanced diet, and I take them to the hospital to see a doctor at the first sign of illness, instead of seeking advice from traditional healers.”

At the root of the program is the long-term goal of Integral transformation of not only behavior, but beliefs, values and attitudes that bring Burundians to a place where they can experience the kind of life Jesus came to bring – life to the full (John 10:10).