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Community leaders of Songo and Apete

Imagine carrying a baby more than 10 miles on foot in the blistering heat just to get basic health care. That’s the reality for people living in Aladi Fata Akere’s community in Nigeria.

“Access to medical facilities is low … people have to travel far,” says Mr. Akere, a leader and local judge for the Songo Community.

Mr. Akere is a tall, thin man adorned in blue and orange coronation beads. His is calm and confident –- a self-assured man who is not afraid to speak his mind. As a leader, Mr. Akere believes that a future without a nearby health center would be a failure on his part.

“My dream is to have good health in my community,” he explains simply. “I want my people to be healthy and live well.”

He’s working hard to turn that dream into reality, and has started building a new health center. He’s now fighting to get funding to finish the project.

But he’s not alone.

Many community leaders in Nigeria have become advocates for health in their communities by partnering with Unilever, Society for Family Health and Population Services International through the Two Health Areas Project. The project uses a market development model to increase access and sales of health and wellness products in rural communities, while simultaneously promoting positive behavior change.

Community leaders like Mr. Akere have been an integral part from program start-up, and are fundamental to its success. Prior to the launch, project leaders held town hall meetings in each community to talk about the goals and listen to their concerns. Their feedback has been crucial in ensuring their full participation in the rollout of the project.

Recently they brought attention to the problem of stock-outs of health products– including toothpaste and iron-fortified bouillon cubes–in local shops. As a result, community leaders have become involved in project oversight, walking from shop to shop to ensure that products are stocked and that the Interpersonal Communications (IPC) Agents are doing outreach.

Bringing community leaders in from the start, and continuing to solicit their feedback and active engagement has enabled them to see tangible benefits from participating in the Two Health Areas Project. They are now personally committed to its success.

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