Meet Gassimu, a Community Health Worker from Sierra Leone

March 02, 2018

Can you imagine how it must feel to save a life? Not as a doctor in a fully equipped hospital or a paramedic at the scene of an accident, but as a volunteer on a remote island with no doctors, no emergency transport and limited medical supplies. 

Sherbro Island is an island off the coast of Sierra Leone where World Vision Ireland’s AIM Health Programme has been implemented over the past number of years, with the goal of reducing maternal and child mortality rates. Sierra Leone has among the worst child and maternal mortality rates in the world. An estimated 83 babies out of every 1,000 live births die before their first birthday in this West African country. In Ireland, the corresponding figure is just 3/1,000. The picture is also unsettling for maternal deaths, which is 1,360 per 100,000 live births in Sierra Leone, compared with just 8/100,000 in Ireland. When you consider the fact that the population of Sierra Leone is just close to 6 million, the differences between the Irish and Sierra Leonean experiences are quite staggering.

World Vision Ireland’s AIM Heath Programme has brought many visible changes to Sherbro Island – fewer women are dying during childbirth; more women are going to health facilities for antenatal care visits and deliveries; Community Health Workers are generating greater awareness about life threatening illnesses and the subsequent need for health care seeking behaviour.

Gassimu Lagga, is an example of one of the extraordinary Community Health Workers making a difference to the community of Sherbro Island. Gassimu is a local volunteer who was trained on Timed and Targeted Counselling (ttC) through the AIM Health Programme. This training enables Gassimu to visit pregnant women and mothers in his neighbourhood and provide them with support, guidance and important health and nutrition advice at critical times. On one of the household visits that he made, Gassimu noticed that Betty, a two year old girl in his community, was very sick and in need of urgent medical attention. However, due to the difficult terrain and lack of emergency transport, it was very difficult for Betty’s mother to bring her to the hospital. As Gassimu was already planning to cross the island to meet with the AIM Health Programme Team, he agreed to bring Betty with him to the island’s hospital. 

Travelling a day in advance of the meeting, Gassimu took the time to take Betty to the hospital, which does not have a single doctor. Betty was examined by a nurse, who diagnosed her with a severe case of anaemia and in need of a blood transfusion. However, the hospital had no blood left in its blood bank and so would not be able to provide the treatment that she needed. Very concerned, Gassimu offered to donate blood in the hope that he would be a match for Betty – which, thankfully he was. His blood was tested and cleared of any infections or diseases after which Betty was able to receive the transfusion. The following day, when Gassimu met with the AIM Health team, he proudly told us that Betty was recovering well in the hospital. 


Without a doubt, his actions saved Betty’s life. And why? Because he wants to make a difference for his community.


World Vision Ireland’s maternal and child health programme is funded by Irish Aid, the Irish government’s overseas development programme.