Community health workers reduce skin diseases in East African children.

International journal of dermatology

PubMedID: 9620485

Schmeller W. Community health workers reduce skin diseases in East African children. Int J Dermatol. 1998;37(5):370-7.
Epidemiologic data concerning skin diseases in many rural areas in sub-Saharan Africa are not available. Little is known about the effect of regular treatment schedules by paramedical staff (especially community health workers) in the primary healthcare system on the severity and prevalence of dermatoses.

5780 school and pre-school children from 13 primary schools in four sublocations in rural western Kenya (Kisumu District) were examined for dermatoses by the author, together with community health workers in 1993. On-the-spot training and weekend seminars about important and common dermatoses were also given. In 1994 a dermatology program was started within the primary healthcare system. Twelve trained community health workers carried out regular school visits once a week and diagnosed and treated pupils with dermatoses. Treatment was performed with gentian violet 1% solution for bacterial skin infections, Whitfield's ointment for dermatophytoses, benzylbenzoate emulsion 25% for scabies, and hydrocortisone acetate 1% cream for eczemas. All schools were visited again in 1995 to evaluate the long-term effects of the program.

In 1993, the prevalence rate for dermatoses was 32.4%. Most of the skin diseases found were of infective origin (27.1% were caused by bacteria, 21.6% by fungi, and 17.6% by arthropods, mainly scabies mites). Dermatitis accounted for 3.5%. In 1995, the prevalence of dermatoses declined to 29.6% (p<0.05), and this reduction was most strongly observed for tropical ulcers and tinea capitis. Additionally, there was an improvement in the extent and severity of skin diseases.

This study defines, for the first time, the number and extent of skin diseases in children in rural Kisumu District; most dermatoses were of infective origin. The study demonstrates that community health workers in the primary healthcare system are capable of dealing successfully with the most common dermatoses in children following a short training period.