Halfway up the face of a steep and rocky hill in the community of Sikoro lives Fatoumata and her family. Fatoumata, a mother of four, begins to share the story of when two Mali Health community health workers first visited in 2011. Alimata, Fatoumata’s mother-in-law, adds, “the women asked about my son and whether he worked and if that work came with a monthly salary.” She told the women then that her son worked odd jobs, but the jobs didn’t come with a reliable monthly salary – passing prayer beads through her fingers as she recounts the story. With a young toddler in the home and a low, unsteady income – the family was eligible for, and joined, Mali Health’s community health program.

Sonata Cissogo, a friend and neighbor, became their community health worker. Sonata shares, “The family’s first daughter, Amitou, was about three and a half years old in 2011. Since that time, I have been working with this family as it has grown from one to four children. The next three children were all enrolled at birth.” Fatoumata notes, “We have known Sonata for many years. Every day she comes over to greet us and the children. If the children show any sign or symptoms of illness she tells us to take them to the health center immediately.”

Amitou leans on her mother, Fatoumata
Amitou with her mother Fatoumata

Amitou, now a healthy nine-year-old enrolled in school, helps to look after her three younger siblings—a brother, Seydou, age 7, and sisters Aminata, age 5, and Niekoro, age 2. Neither Fatoumata nor Alimata work, leaving Fatoumata’s husband, N’Golo, the sole provider for the family. Alimata reflects on how the family agonized over what to do when their oldest child became ill: “before Amitou was first enrolled, my son would say to buy traditional medicine to treat her illnesses. Traditional medicine is cheaper, but it doesn’t always work. Now, since my grandchildren have been enrolled in Mali Health’s program, my son tells us to take the kids to the health center right away. Now he is content, and he and my daughter-in-law don’t struggle about it anymore.”

Amitou, Seydou and Aminata have grown up with access to basic primary care whenever they needed it – and today, they are strong and healthy. The youngest, Niekoro, is still covered and just recently became ill. Her mother describes her relief at being able to act quickly to take care of her daughter. “As soon as I recognized the signs, my husband and I agreed that I would take her to the local health center just down the hill. I bring the health card that Mali Health gave us and that helps a lot with the doctor. Before, without the card, the doctor would be scared that you would not have enough money to pay. Sometimes you would only have maybe $2 or $4 in hand, and the doctor and the medicine might be $6 – $10, or more. So, we wouldn’t be able to buy the medicine and would have to get traditional medicine instead. Now with the Mali Health card, the doctor is very nice, and he gives us the consultation and medicine, and we don’t have to wait long either.”

The benefits extend beyond just immediate access to healthcare for the Diarra family. “Now, with the money we would have spent on doctors and medicine, we use it to buy good healthy food, decent clothes for the children, and a bit goes to cover their monthly school fees too,” says Fatoumata. As she recounts her family’s story, she points to her daughter, Aminata, who, unprompted, grabbed a bucket and a bar of soap and is washing her hands. “Aminata learned to wash her hands with soap from Sonata. She taught everyone to do this regularly during the Ebola crisis, and Aminata has been doing it ever since.” Aminata turned five years old last June, graduating from the program.

“My son is thankful for Mali Health and for Sonata too,” says Alimata of her grandchildren’s participation in the program and the community health worker it has provided to their family. “We are all thankful.”

Sonata and Seydou
Sonata and Seydou