Village Health Team member leads by example as she sensitises communities on Ebola

Accompanying her talk with the walk

By Alex Taremwa
UNICEF Uganda/2019/Kabuye
03 September 2019

Kizza Rehema has been a Kihamba village Volunteer Health Extension (VHT) worker for nine years. 

Her good work in the measles and polio immunization and door-to-door home visits earned her a seat as the village’s Vice Chairperson. When her boss died, she assumed the Local Council 1 seat and was voted in again for another term in the last elections. 

Besides being part of the first health response team in her community, she was also selected as one of volunteers for the UNICEF-supported team that are leading the sensitization activities on the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) under the supervision of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF). 

Rehema says that her leadership philosophy is by example because people want to follow actions as opposed to words. Unlike other politicians, she accompanies her talk with the walk. 

“Before I go around telling people to have hand washing facilities at their homes and proper pit latrines, I must have one here at home for my family. That way, the community can see and follow my example,”

she says.

Rehema says that their efforts are bearing fruit as the community has heeded to their message and implemented it. The problem, however, is the lack of access to clean water that is dealing their efforts a hard blow. 

In her community for example, they get water from a community well and its hygiene is far from best – even when boiled. The borehole that was set up down in the valley broke down a year back and was never fixed. 

“People have to walk about five kilometers to get to the well. When they finally get the water home, they use it for house chores and ignore filling the hand washing jerry cans. This is a big problem.”

According to Rehema, this practice opens up the village not just to an Ebola outbreak but also other highly contagious and equally killer diseases like cholera and typhoid. 

And indeed, in the neighbouring Kyaaka II Refugee Settlement, cholera has already broken out. According to the Assistant Commandant of the Settlement, Fred Soyekwo, the population of over 95,000 is at risk due to lack of access to clean water. 

He says that although UNICEF supplied the settlement with water tanks and soap for hand washing, on top of massive sensitization in form of multi-lingual Ebola messages, radio talk shows and community audio tower announcements at food collection points, water access undermines their progress. 

“The settlement has 11 schools – one secondary and one vocational – a health center III hospital and six outpost clinics but we find that lack of safe water puts the settlement and the host community at a major risk,” Soyekwo adds.


Despite the setbacks posed by the drought, the fight against an imminent Ebola outbreak is even stronger. At Katamba Primary School for example, the school has sought more funding and built a 5,000 liter tank on top of the three hand washing tanks provided by UNICEF. The water tank collects rain water that the pupils and staff then use to fill the hand washing facilities.

“We have even moved from using bar soap that was provided by UNICEF to using liquid soap because the pupils were misusing the soap while others would walk with the pieces of soap back home,” the headmaster, Blem Richard says. 

In the refugee settlement, every office, screening point, Ebola Treatment Unit, health center has a hand washing facility with chlorinated water. In tandem with other partners, UNICEF has ensured that every corner of the settlement has enough hand washing facilities and Ebola-related information, education and communication materials in easy to understand languages. The Ebola IEC materials are printed by Ministry of Health with UNICEF and WHO support and funded by UKaid.

At Sweswe Reception Centre, a massive water treatment plant has been set up to lessen the water burden in the settlement by providing clean water. 

Kyaaka II Refugee Settlement saw its population triple from about 13,000 to about 95,000 after the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) escalated. On a daily basis, the settlement receives about 1,300 new refugee arrivals and all are screened and processed within a few hours. 

The settlement has a full-fledged Ebola Treatment Unit (ETU) and Isolation Centre that handles alert cases from the settlement and the host community. 

According to Allan Mbonye, the Clinic Officer at the ETU, the settlement is fully equipped and staffed to handle any outbreaks. The health workers have Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to protect them from any form of contact and the ETU has two monitoring and treatment spaces for both suspects and those they came into contact with. 

“We have the hot zone for contacts and the hot hot zone for the suspects. No one is allowed to enter both zones – not even health workers and they two spaces have their own entries and exits,” Mbonye explained. 

Despite the growing number of alert cases from the settlement and the communities, all have turned out negative for Ebola. Rift valley fever and cholera are still the major health challenges according to Isabirye Andrew, the Assistant Public Health Officer for African Humanitarian Action – UNICEF’s implementation partner in the refugee settlement.