One of the most effective tools in the drive towards Universal Health Coverage (UHC) is the community health worker.
Selected by their peers, these often unpaid volunteers open up access to life-saving treatments for people who may otherwise be unable to travel to a health facility or afford the care they need. They form a crucial part of primary health care provision, enabling overstretched health systems to reach isolated communities. Many are also trained to support the country’s malaria control interventions, with timely, accurate diagnosis and suitable treatment.
In Uganda, these volunteers are members of Village Health Teams (VHTs), and those that are trained and supported as part of our Strengthening Uganda’s Response to Malaria (SURMa) project don’t just test for malaria.
They also test for diarrhoea and pneumonia, and are trained to offer basic treatment for these diseases too, while knowing when to refer more serious cases to the nearest health facility.
The importance of data
But it isn’t enough just to test and treat. How can we measure if this approach is working? How can we maintain supplies? How can we monitor any potential malaria upsurges?
The answer is data.
The VHTs in our SURMa project gather crucial data on who they have tested and what treatments have been used. They then report back to the health facilities at the district level.
This surveillance data is plugged into the national health system by biostatisticians who interpret the figures and raise any concerns, while the district health teams ensure that fresh commodities are supplied to the VHTs.
The cycle repeats, and the data builds, enabling district health teams – and the government – to see what is happening on the ground, and to respond accordingly. If there is an upsurge in any disease, they can see it in the figures and respond swiftly.
Using reliable data as their guide, governments can act in a more targeted manner, spotting trends that otherwise would go unnoticed, and monitoring which interventions work and which do not. As their intelligence grows, they can get a grip on malaria and reduce the burden of the disease on the health system as a whole. This, in turn, frees up funds and resources to tackle other health issues.
The SURMa project has been designed so that – through the use of VHTs and improved data management – the Ugandan government can extend its healthcare coverage, track successes and failures, and strengthen its health systems in its drive towards UHC.
It is great to see that at the World Health Assembly in Geneva this week, global health leaders will be discussing how to improve primary healthcare and achieve UHC. Building sustainable infrastructure to record and use data will be crucial to these efforts.
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Mike Haydock is the Communications Manager at Malaria Consortium.