In Liberia, mothers work at each level of the health system to ensure every mother, child, and family can access primary health services. In honor of Mother’s Day 2019, meet three of the mothers who are making Liberia’s National Community Health Assistant Program possible.
Farzee Johnson, Reproductive Health Supervisor
Farzee Johnson is passionate about maternal health. As a former midwife and current Reproductive Health Supervisor for Rivercess County, her passion has touched the lives of many mothers and their children. Because of her work, she is considered a local celebrity in her hometown of Neezuin; every neighbor knows her, children have been named after her, and she is lovingly referred to as ‘Ma Farzee’. When she served as a midwife at the local primary health clinic from 2007 to 2015, she ensured mothers could safely bring their children into the world in an area where access to a health professional had once been elusive. Reflecting on that time, she said, “I feel happy when I am helping someone give birth. I have a passion.” But she didn’t stop at safe delivery; she also supported mothers to bring their children to the facility for routine vaccinations, and provided access to family planning so women could continue to make the best decisions for their family. In her current role as Reproductive Health Supervisor, she is building a new generation of midwives to support mothers and their children across the county. As a coach and mentor, she works with midwives to strengthen their skills, and often reminds them that they are lights for their own families and for the families they support in their community. Farzee understands this well. During the Liberian civil war, she first witnessed the incredible power of a midwife and was inspired to follow in her footsteps. As a mother to two girls, 9-year-old Angel and 12-month-old Faith Garmai, and a surrogate mother to the many members of the community, Farzee’s light truly guides the way to a healthier generation of children in Liberia.
Brittney Varpilah, Director of National Community Health Services at Last Mile Health
In Monrovia, Liberia’s capital city, Brittney Varpilah is working to ensure all mothers like her can access the primary health services they deserve. As Last Mile Health’s Director of National Community Health Services, Brittney works closely with the Ministry of Health to support the design and implementation of the historic National Community Health Assistant Program – which has already ensured more than 106,000 women have access to pregnancy visits from a community health worker directly in their home. As a first-time mother to 5-month-old Zinnah, she has a newfound connection to the women and children served by the program. She says, “Both of my husband’s parents come from communities where the National Community Health Assistant program is active. I feel a sense of responsibility that her family and cousins reach the same potential that Zinnah has. Every woman wants to do the best for their child.” Brittney’s team is working in partnership with the Ministry of Health to reach a big milestone: full coverage of the national program to ensure all mothers and their children living in Liberia’s rural and remote communities can access quality primary health services.
Ellen Payne, Nurse Supervisor
Ellen Payne, mother to 7-year-old Theresa and 16-month-old Emellen, works as a nurse supervisor; coaching and mentoring community health workers to provide prenatal and antenatal care for mothers, family planning for women, and treatment for childhood illnesses. She’s witnessed the incredible impact of the community health worker model on facility-based deliveries. When she first started working in the community health program, the majority of rural women delivered at home; now, the majority of women go to the facility where they have the support they need to deliver safely. However this work does not come without sacrifice; currently, Ellen’s children live hours away from her in Monrovia with her mother, so she can work in remote areas of the country. She says, “For those not around a [health] facility, I have seen them die from malaria. Only because of lack of access to medicine the child can die. I want to be here supporting the community health workers so others have opportunity, everybody everywhere will be safe.” Ellen is one of the more than 300 nurse supervisors deployed across the country to ensure community health workers are delivering a high quality of care to their patients.
Brittney reflected with a final thought, saying, “I feel so much joy and optimism when I see Zinnah. I look at her and see unlimited potential.” At Last Mile Health, we are tremendously grateful for the amazing work that mothers like Brittney, Farzee, and Ellen are doing to ensure that all children in Liberia can pursue their unlimited potential. This Mother’s Day, we celebrate their incredible contributions to their families, their country and the global right to health movement.