Meet Agnes Nambooze

The preventive health scout of Katunti

Tauquir Ahmad Khan
polio campaign, polio eradication, village health team, VHT, village health team member, Uganda, Ministry of Health, MoH, UNICEF
UNICEF Uganda/2022/Khan
22 February 2022

“Misconceptions about vaccines in the past were rampant, and kind of farfetched,” remarked Agnes Nambooze, reliving her initial struggles with caregivers at the dawn of her vocational journey as a ‘Community-based Monitor (CBM) over two decades ago. “Some of them seriously thought vaccines would cause disability or even death among children.” 

“But we have come a long way in terms of social acceptance of immunization services for children. Our community now regards vaccines as life-saving tools,” she gratifyingly expressed fulfilment over the positive behavioural impacts her long haul as a community mobiliser has produced among her people.

Presently, Nambooze serves her community as a ‘Village Health Team Member (VHT)’ with the added responsibility of supervising all the VHTs in her parish, which is sprawled out in the scenic but sparsely populated highlands around the Katunti trade-centre in Rakai District. 

Blessed with five sons and two daughters, and a devoutly supportive husband, Nambooze efficiently divides her day between farming and health promotion and education activities. “I am quite happy with my serene and meaningful life now. But life is never devoid of hitches.”

“Earlier on, I was braving through the trials of life following a perfectly normal childhood. My father, the late Benedict of Kayungo Salongo, took great care of me. But then fate befell us. His health started deteriorating rapidly when I was in my senior-4 at the ‘Christ the King’ school in Kalisizo. I was forced to quit school and take on informal jobs such as housekeeping, to support my parents. Later, I married Mr. Kiwanuka, acquired some land in Katunti for farming, and settled here,” she mused over her troubled times preceding her commission as the CBM in her community.

“Then I chanced upon a community dialogue between health workers and community members to link them with the health facilities through a CBM. People chose me for the role, and I accepted it,” she evocatively recounted the beginning. “I had my strong reasons to take on the responsibility. It puzzled me to see how most pregnant women would not go for life-preserving antenatal care despite the ease of access. The attitude extended to routine immunization also.” Determined to make a difference in her community, she took on the mantle of a CBM in 2000, and 8 years later she became a VHT. A while later, her fellow VHTs elected her as a parish-level VHT Coordinator. 

“I am committed to improving health-seeking behaviour among my people. But most of my work is dedicated to promoting antenatal care services and institutional delivery among pregnant women and raising demand for routine vaccines for the children,”

she specified. 

Using the skills acquired from the Integrated Community Case Management (ICCM)’ training, Nambooze also manages childhood malaria, pneumonia, and diarrhoea among children in her community.

She is also instrumental in promoting improved Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) practices among the households as she believes it can stave off many health issues her community frequently grapples with. 

Caregivers in Katunti highly acclaim her contributions to their community as she effected immense behavioural changes among them in terms of seeking vitally important mother and child healthcare services. 

Speaking of routine immunization (RI), she said,

“Childhood immunization services yield the highest benefit of all public health interventions as they keep the vaccine-preventable diseases lastingly in check. Once safe from these deadly afflictions, the children grow into healthy adults and enjoy a more productive and fuller life.”

As regards to Polio, Nambooze considers it an ever-looming threat until all its forms are eradicated from the world. “During the recent review meetings at the district hospital, Polio surfaced frequently in connection with the ongoing outbreaks among Uganda’s neighbouring countries. It’s disturbing to see how it keeps coming back despite our outstanding Polio eradication records,” she remarked apprehensively. “The house-to-house Polio campaign was timely. We needed it to keep our community safe from transmission of the Polio virus detected in Kampala.” 

“To prepare the community for maximum uptake of the Polio vaccine during the ongoing campaign, I worked closely with our focal person at the district hospital to select and finalize the most active VHTs and Local Councillors (LC1s) in our parish for child registration and household sensitization,” she recounted about her pre-campaign role as a VHT coordinator. 

“However, as a VHT, I collaborated with the co-VHT in my village to mobilize caregivers to present all their children below the age of five years before the vaccination teams during the weekend for immunization against Polio. I would also visit the trading centre and interact with women’s groups and key influencers to cascade key messages about the Polio campaign around the community. Being deeply concerned with the followers and their children’s health, the priests in our area have been diligently making announcements on Sundays once we mobilized them about the upcoming Polio campaign a few weeks ago,” she said, and then added pridefully, “it’s the third day and we have almost concluded the mop-up exercise without any vaccine hesitancy or refusal in our parish.”

During her long stint as a VHT, Nambooze has never seen a confirmed Polio case in her area, but her team is always on alert about the disease as they know it only comes through importations from other outbreak countries. Therefore, she keeps her team vigilant and ensures they participate in the Polio surveillance exercises along with the health workers to scan the community for any probable “Acute Flaccid Paralysis (AFP)” cases. 

“We hope to achieve the best campaign outcomes now. But to sustain the impact of the campaign, we persistently need to strengthen Polio surveillance and delivery of routine immunization services in our respective areas,” she concluded.

Supported by UNICEF, the Rakai District Health Team (DHT)implemented crucial ACSM activities to generate optimal demand for Polio vaccination in the pre-campaign days. For campaign announcements and interactive talk-shows, the DHT engaged KBS FM and Rakai TC radio stations. Community drives were conducted in all the 11 sub-counties of the district. Through timely advocacy, the DHT also engaged key faith-based organizations (FBOs) including the Kasozi Catholic Parish, and the Anglican Church and the mosque in Rakai town council. 

UNICEF also supported the district with information, education and communication (IEC) materials in English and the local language including talking points for political, cultural, and religious leaders, and banners. A film van was also deployed by the district for community mobilization and supplemented by house-to-house sensitization drives by 462 VHTs and Local Council leaders.