Enlisting community health workers to help diagnose and treat acute malnutrition may significantly increase coverage and save lives, according to new research from the global humanitarian group Action Against Hunger. The Community Health Workers (CHW) model – local residents trained to provide both basic prevention and treatment services – has been around for decades. Governments from Brazil to Ethiopia have rolled out CHW programs to help provide better services to remote corners of their countries – and have seen people live longer and healthier lives as a result.

In 2014 Action Against Hunger, with support from the Innocent Foundation, decided to find out if they could successfully integrate treatment for acute malnutrition into existing CHW programs in Mali and Pakistan. The answer is yes, according to the research that has started to emerge from those efforts.

Malnutrition Deeply spoke to Saul Guerrero, Action Against Hunger’s director of technical expertise and research, about what inspired the decision to consider CHWs and what the findings mean for future efforts to combat acute malnutrition.

Malnutrition Deeply: Why did you decide to focus on CHWs?

Saul Guerrero: In 2007 the world finally made a decision to treat acute malnutrition on an outpatient basis and that really led to a huge increase in the number of kids that were being treated. We started to assess the reach of these services and the coverage of these services, and we started to find that only one in three children who needed treatment were actually using it in the areas in which it was available.

What we found was that there are a couple of reasons why people weren’t using them. The first was that there were issues about the diagnosis of the condition, and there were issues about just physical access and distance. It became a permanent feature of every assessment that we did.

Read the full article about community health workers by Andrew Green at News Deeply.