Dr. Roseanne Njiru is a sociologist at the University of Nairobi who has conducted cutting edge field research that finds a link between healthcare and peacebuilding. Specifically, she examines the role that community health workers play in preventing conflict in marginalized communities, like urban slums, around Nairobi, Kenya.
Community health workers (or what in other contexts are sometimes called health extension workers) link poor, rural or otherwise marginalized communities to a country’s broader health care system. The health workers themselves are from these communities and they are given some basic level of training. Essentially, they are the eyes and ears and first point of contact between the health system and the community.
Deploying cadres of these community health workers has become increasingly popular as a public health strategy in the developing world. In my years of reporting, I’ve seen the key role that community health workers play in places like rural Bangladesh and Ethiopia. This strategy has been demonstrated to improve health outcomes in some of the most vulnerable communities in a society. But what I did not appreciate until I encountered Dr. Njiru’s research was some of the ancillary benefits, beyond health, that community health workers can confer to their community. Namely, Dr. Njiru found through her research that community health workers are also agents of peace and conflict prevention–including helping to prevent political violence.