Medtronic Foundation - Bisharo Farah Walking


Support for community health works brings access, hope to underserved patients.


Navigating the healthcare system and maintaining healthy lifestyles can be hard for people living in rural or underserved communities. Economic challenges, cultural barriers, and shortages of doctors and nurses add challenges for patients seeking care.

Community health workers help fill this gap. They serve as trusted liaisons, linking community members with health and wellness services.

Supporting local community health workers is a significant component of a recent five-year global health program funded by the Medtronic Foundation.

“The Medtronic Foundation is committed to improving the health of underserved populations worldwide and supporting health initiatives in communities where Medtronic employees live and give,” said Paurvi Bhatt, president of the Medtronic Foundation and vice president of Medtronic Philanthropy. “Community health workers play an important role for underserved populations — expanding access to care, improving health outcomes, and strengthening communities.”

World Health Organization officials see community health workers as vital to achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and addressing the clinical healthcare worker shortage, particularly in low-income areas.1

Connecting Patients in Brazil

In a country where one out of four people lives in poverty, and where there are only 17 physicians per 10,000 residents, Brazil has made significant strides in the use of community health workers.2

Creude Mendes de Souza

For Creude Mendes de Souza, a community health worker in Teofilo Otoni, Brazil, it’s about serving as a connection point between patients and health professionals.

“Often, the patient has no one to vent to, no one to talk to,” says Mendes de Souza. "In most cases, patients want to cry on my shoulder, get things off their chest. I listen and give guidance."

Creude Mendes de Souza with patient

Mendes de Souza estimates she visits around 200 homes every month, with many visits lasting over an hour. During visits, she moves through a checklist of questions related to health and wellness to share information back to a clinic nurse and create an overall health strategy for the patient. She also identifies potential warning signs of violence, neglect, or drug use, and looks for risk factors to overall health such as smoking.

Creude Mendes de Souza with patient

In 1994, Brazil established Programa Saúde da Família (Family Health Strategy), a population health initiative based around community health care workers. Today, Brazil has 236,000 community health workers as part of 33,000 family healthcare teams, serving nearly two-thirds of the population.3 The country’s infant mortality rate has dropped from 114 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1975 to 19 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2008, and remarkable progress has been made in reducing or eliminating AIDS/HIV, polio, measles, diphtheria and Chagas disease.4

The success of the community health worker approach has made Brazil a global leader and model in community-based healthcare for other countries, including the United States.5

The power of in-home visits in rural United States

In Faribault, Minnesota, USA, Bisharo Farah works as a community health worker. She’s part of a program that connects hospitals, clinics, and local non-profit organisations with support from the Medtronic Foundation. In her role, Farah helps underserved individuals access primary care, medications, health and wellness education, and more so they can better control their chronic diseases and address complications.

Bisharo Farah at her desk

Farah sees a significant need for community health workers, especially in areas like her hometown. In Faribault, the population is generally older, with greater rates of uninsured people or people without access to transportation. In addition, many residents face language barriers. She hopes the impact that she and other community health workers are making allows everyone to experience a life of health and wellness.

“Community health means everybody’s health is being cared for,” says Bisharo. “The Medtronic Foundation is what got me here. It’s given me the opportunity to help my community in ways that I didn’t think were possible.”

“In cities large and small, we’re seeing dramatic results from community health workers in improving their patients’ health and lives,” says Bhatt. “This is why we continue to work with partners around the world to support community health workers, and advocate for the critical role they play in helping underserved populations successfully manage their health.”

Visit the Medtronic Foundation website to learn more about how community health workers are changing lives around the world.

Bisharo in Community

Fairall L, Bateman E. Health workers are vital to sustainable development goals and universal health coverage BMJ (2017); 356


Novotny L. 3-minute case study: Health workers from the community. AthenaInsight, June 12, 2018


Macinko J, Harris MJ. Brazil’s Family Health Strategy – Delivering Community-Based Primary Care in a Universal Health System. NEJM (2015) ;372: 2177-2181


Zulliger R. The Community Health Agent Program of Brazil. CHW Central. 2018.


Macinko J, Harris MJ. Brazil’s Family Health Strategy – Delivering Community-Based Primary Care in a Universal Health System. NEJM (2015) ;372: 2177-2181