VHTs lead to increase in demand of health services in Northern Uganda

Reaching many more mothers and children

By Catherine Ntabadde Makumbi
village health team (VHTs) in Uganda
UNICEF Uganda/2018/Sibiloni
15 May 2018

Adasan Oketwengu, 61, has been a village health team member for 22 years in Opano village, Central Division, Nebbi district in West Nile.

Supporting this structure, that offers communities the first contact the Health system, has now earned him the title ‘doctor’.

I am so happy and proud to be a VHT. People in my village no longer call me by my name. They call me doctor,

says Oketwengu with a smile.

Oketwengu is among 15,000 VHTs in West Nile that have undergone community new born care training by UNICEF under the SIDA supported Improving Maternal, Newborn and Child Health (MNCH) through Integrated Approaches project. Nebbi district has 950 VHTs.

The aim of this support among others is to strengthen capacity of Village Health Teams (VHTs) in 8 districts of the West Nile sub-region to generation demand for health services and enhance maternal and new-born care through health education in community.

With the new skills and knowledge acquired, Oketwengu can calculate the due date of pregnant women in his village. In addition, he has learnt to encourage Mothers who deliver from home to keep their babies warm and initiate early breastfeeding, most importantly refer these mothers to Health Centre for care.

We usually look for pregnant mothers so that we refer them to the health centres. For children under 5, the parents are encouraged to bring them to our homes for assistance,

Oketwengu explains.

For complicated and severe cases, he says, mothers and children are usually referred to health centres or hospitals with notes which guide the health workers.  In his village, the major disease burden is malaria, cough and diarrhea. Oketwengu attends to about 5-6 cases daily.

Mary Goretti Amonditho, Nursing Officer Nyaravur Health Centre III in Nebbi district is all praises of the role and impact created by the VHTs, thanks to the project.

“VHTs have contributed to the increase in demand of services at our health centres. They play a great role in referral system. Before this project, we would get about 15 mothers and children in a day. Now the number can even reach 60,” Amonditho says.

She reveals that when the referred cases come with referral notes from the VHTs, it is easy to attend to them quickly at any health centre. Nebbi district has 23 health facilities.

Jane Amano, Senior Nursing Office, Nebbi district says VHTs are critical in the health centre one system as they can treat simple illness and refer the complicated/severe cases. This, Amano says has greatly reduced the maternal and child mortality in the district.

Amano is grateful to UNICEF and SIDA for the support adding that the health performance in the district was alarming before the interventions.

In the sub region, the project has in addition supported activities including support to training, supportive supervision and mentorship of health providers, procurement and distribution of essential MNCH commodities and medical equipment; strengthening the supply chain management at all levels using mTrac – a software to track the supply stock out and availability, improving health facilities infrastructure, including improvements in water, sanitation and hygiene facilities and services; infection control measures and innovative approaches to supporting lighting in labour rooms, support to establishment and functionality of a surge model for emergency response, strengthening referral system from communities to health facilities and between health facilities and supporting the implementation of the community care for mothers and new-borns and WASH interventions.

In Arua district, the assistant district health office Paul Bishop Drileba also revealed that the VHTs have drastically contributed to an overwhelming demand of services at the health facilities. “The numbers have increased at our health centres. All this is because of the VHTs’ work at the grassroots. With the trainings acquired from UNICEF, the VHTs are even performing much better,” he explained.

Arua has 85 health facilities including 5 hospitals and over 3,600 VHTs.