“It is the responsibility of every man to care for his family and community at large,” says Ssuuna, giving a momentary look and smiling at Trinita-his youngest daughter. He carries a bench and holds Trinita’s hand as he shuffles behind his house to look for a shade where he can get shelter from the scorching afternoon sunshine. “I am glad that I am here to serve my community as a VHT.”
Before he became a community health worker, called Village Health Team members (VHTs) in Uganda, three years ago, the 37-year-old was not as popular in his community despite the fact that he was the vice chairperson of his local council. He used to view the community as a place where individuals would only take interest in their own matters and his interests were always driven by political desires. Had it not been for the Ministry of Health’s integrated community case management (ICCM) programme, Ssuuna would not have realised his responsibility in the community.
Born and raised in Bujenje village, Muwanga sub-county-Kiboga district, Suuna Godfrey has five children. Like other community members, he depends on farming as the source of income, spending more time attending to the farms than looking at the general welfare of their community which translated into poor health. Ssuna realised that this needed to change. “The situation in my village was an eye opener, I looked at myself and the community where I have lived all my life and I thought it was about time to do something and change life for the better. My question was, what will I do and how will I do it?”
Ssuuna’s life and that of his village changed three years ago when the village local council chairperson and a family friend nominated him to attend training organised by the Ministry of Health with support from Malaria Consortium that would see him become a VHT and play an integral role in improving health in his village and bringing new hope to sick children’s parents. His desire to change life in the community saw Ssuuna walk several kilometres each day, along difficult roads to neighbouring homes and villages to sensitise people about disease prevention, improved sanitation and hygiene. And his efforts have paid off as he is now praised in the community having passed on knowledge that has changed people’s lives through diagnosing and treating children under five years for malaria, pneumonia and diarrhoea.
Ssuuna went through a series of trainings; the most recent, in May 2012 allowed him to take on the responsibility of facilitating community dialogues in his village, empowering him to inspire change in his community.
Malaria Consortium is supporting VHTs and communities to use community dialogues as an approach where rural communities especially the hard to reach areas can express their views and share stories and experiences related to health, sanitation and hygiene as well as prevention of diseases such as diarrhoea, malaria and pneumonia among children. This is one of the steps in identifying issues and opportunities within a community that can ultimately lead to improved health and quality of life.
Although it has been only five months since he started conducting community dialogues, Ssuuna says that he has noticed a great improvement in health especially among children. “We held the first community dialogue three weeks after the training and it was my responsibility and the LC1 chairman to make sure that we have community dialogues every month where we discuss about prevention of diseases such as a malaria, pneumonia and diarrhoea. These dialogues have yielded good results, in fact I can now spend a whole month without getting a child suffering from malaria, diarrhoea or even pneumonia.”
Despite the challenges that come along with his work such as lack of facilitation in terms of transport allowance to ease his movement as well as stationary like community dialogue checklist forms, Ssuuna’s dream is to create a sustainable community approach that can flourish without relying on support from partner organisations. “I am looking at strategy where I can continue to work with the community without waiting for trainings from organisations. My aim is to also liberate the community economically because a healthy living not only comes with disease prevention but also food security and financial empowerment.”
Kasule John, a volunteer at Muwanga Health Centre II trained by Infectious Disease Institute (IDI) and a residence of Bujenje village referred to Ssuuna as a committed and hardworking man who is determined to bring Bujenje to a new standard where his efforts can be translated into a better life. “The VHT programme is very good and particularly the VHT in this community has given it his all and this has been evident even at health centres where the numbers of patients have tremendously reduced and this has reduced on the rate of drug shortage. I am just praying that VHTs like Ssuuna get something small as an appreciation and motivation factor for the work they are doing in transforming our communities.”