Effective health care starts at home and in the community. Leila Noisette, Malaria Consortium’s Advocacy Officer in Uganda, explains how Malaria Consortium works with communities, providing training and tools that they can use to improve their own health and that of their children
Though close to Kampala – the capital city of Uganda – and close to a major highway, Kiboga District is essentially rural and the main means of income are from crops and livestock. Most of the local residents rely on subsistence agriculture. Malaria has been a major cause of child mortality here and has affected the productivity of adults working in the fields.
Adera Nakato, a young grandmother explained that falling sick from malaria used to be common in the area: “I could hardly work for money and had limited food for my children. I used to buy nets but they were not effective because they were not treated; it gave us false confidence and we continued to suffer from malaria.”
Three years ago, Malaria Consortium distributed long-lasting insecticidal nets in the area. Adera received nets through the distribution for her family:
“Ever since we started using them, none of us here has suffered from malaria fever,” she told us.
Every household in four districts of mid-western Uganda benefited from the net distribution, a universal coverage campaign undertaken by Malaria Consortium through the Pioneer project funded by Comic Relief.
Tumusiime Mildred, a 32 year old mother of five children also benefited from the distribution of nets: “What can I say about the nets? It is just evident when you look at my children playing. They look happy and healthy.”
Mildred’s husband is a teacher but she had to stop work after a complication during the birth of her youngest child. She explains that nets have helped to reduce the amount of money her family have to spend on health care: “Treating the whole family was costly. Now, we no longer frequent hospitals due to malaria. My last born is two years old and she has never suffered from malaria yet. When the older ones get sick, they are taken to Ssunna, the village health team member, and they get better in a few days,” Mildred adds.
Ssunna is one of a number of community members who have been trained by Malaria Consortium to act as village health team members (VHTs), providing basic health care to young children in the community. He learnt to diagnose and treat malaria, as well as other leading causes of child death including pneumonia and diarrhoea in children under the age of five.
“I am glad that I am here to serve my community as a VHT,” Ssunna explains.
As well as diagnosis and treatment, VHTs also actively work with communities to share information about disease prevention and basic sanitary measures that families can follow to stay healthy. Ssunna received training to conduct community dialogues. The dialogues, part of a community outreach initiative supported by Malaria Consortium and the District Health Authorities, encourage communities to express their views and share experiences related to health, sanitation and hygiene. “With the village chairperson, we organise community dialogues every month where we discuss prevention of diseases such as malaria. These dialogues have yielded good results. In fact I can now spend a whole month without seeing a child suffering from malaria, diarrhoea or pneumonia.”
Catherine Nassiwa, a senior nursing officer, is the Malaria Focal Person in Kiboga District Health Team. A lot has improved as a result of the partnership between the district health team and Malaria Consortium, she explains: “Awareness of malaria has increased… sanitation, hygiene and care-seeking behaviour have improved, which, combined with the use of nets has reduced the morbidity in the district. Thanks to reduced expenditure for treatment, families can invest their money elsewhere. The relationship between community members and health workers has also improved. This has built health workers confidence and increased community members trust in the public health services.”
As the Pioneer project draws to a close, Ssunna talks about the lasting impact the project will have on the area. He hopes that, with support from active residents like himself, the community will continue taking care of their health without relying on support from partners.
“I am looking at a strategy to continue working with the community without waiting for support form Malaria Consortium.”