Taking the University outside the Ivory Tower: Makerere University contributing to Improved Community Health outcomes

Over 260 Community Health Workers/Village Health Team members have been commissioned in Luuka District, Eastern Uganda. The Community Health Workers (CHWs) were trained to support the district health team in managing maternal and newborn health. One VHT member was selected from the five per village in the district and trained in maternal and newborn health issues. The training was supported by the Maternal and Newborn Study (MANEST) in the School of Public Health. The study is led by Dr. Peter Waiswa in the Department of Health Policy, Planning and Management.

 The ceremony held at Kiyunga Health Centre IV, was presided over by the Senior Health Educator in the Ministry of Health, Ms. Lilian Luwaga who represented the Minister of Health. Ms. Luwaga noted that the CHWs are reaching where government cannot reach and that they do have important information that is useful for health and development planning.
She thanked Makerere University School of Public Health for working hard on the initiative and for the contribution made and called upon the district to plan for sustainability of the structure. Ms. Luwaga said that ways of integrating income generation activities in the work of CHWs need to be investigated, as payment of salaries may be problematic to implement.

The woman Member of Parliament for Luuka district, Kaabule Evelyn Naome Mpagi thanked the CHWs for making themselves available and noted that their contribution to improved health for mothers and newborns should be looked at in the broad sense of development. ÔÇ£We are now partners in developing Luuka; you are even doing the work of MPs. We shall work together to ensure that you get job satisfaction. You should be recognized by all leaders and show that we appreciate the work you doÔÇØ, she said.

The Principal Investigator/Team Lead, MANEST Dr. Peter Waiswa, hailed the MANEST team based in Iganga district, for the quality work done in training and supporting the Community Health Workers.  He said although this work started in Iganga, need was realized in other areas and therefore the team started to move out and serve other areas; not for material gain but to save lives.

Dr. Waiswa called for sustainability of the initiative, especially by the district. ÔÇ£Although they are volunteers, we need to support them; supervise them and facilitate them as well. The district should sustain them and not look at them as Makerere University responsibilityÔÇØ, he said.

One Moses Nambona, a VHT member from Nayirika village testified to the use and benefits of the work of VHTs. Here below is his testimony:

ÔÇ£I had a man and wife in my village who were in bad health status; the woman looked very sickly and didnÔÇÖt know she was pregnant. When I realized she was pregnant I went back and educated them. The man thought that his woman had been bewitched. I referred them to Kiyunga Health Centre and the pregnancy was confirmed. I followed them up and taught them saving; they started from less than 50/= to 200,000/= by the time the woman delivered. At Kiyunga (HCIV), the wife was referred to Iganga for ceasarian (section) and gave birth to twins. They are now enjoying improved household income and health and they regard me as their ÔÇÿgodÔÇÖ. I thank Makerere University for the support and continue mobilizing moreÔÇØ.

Evidence shows that the work of CHWs has led to improvement in attendance of health facilities by pregnant women. ÔÇ£There has been a marked reduction in TBA-delivered births with health facility deliveries going up to 51% from 40%ÔÇØ, noted Sister Justine Mirembe, District Nursing Officer at Kiyunga Health Centre IV.