Wednesday, April 6, 2016

VHTs brainstorm ways to better health

By Rachel Bridge, UVP Partnerships Officer and Global Health Corps Fellow

Village Health Teams are a national component of the health system in Uganda, but to us they are individuals with big hearts and great ideas, and not just a national system. They are people like Jessica, worried about access to family planning for the women in her village, and James, who is navigating his desire to improve health in his village in the midst of difficult village leadership.

At the core of UVP’s Healthy Villages Model is our partnership with Village Health Teams (VHTs). Fifteen years ago, Uganda’s Ministry of Health introduced VHTs as the national model for health intervention at the community level. There is meant to be a VHT for each village in Uganda, comprised of 5-10 community members chosen by their fellow community members to promote the health and well-being of their village. VHTs are responsible for building a strong foundation for community health improvement by providing education, prevention, and support. Within their community, their job is to mobilize for health activities, promote health to prevent diseases, treat simple illnesses at home, check for dangers signs in the community, report and refer community sickness to health workers, and keep village records up to date.

Partnering with VHTs keeps our work grounded in community knowledge and empowerment. The VHT members in our Healthy Villages are the pulse of their communities—deeply invested in the activities, challenges, and experiences of their neighbors. They are caretakers, mobilizers, educators, and leaders, driven by a desire to improve the health of their families. And in the villages that we work in, your family extends to your entire community. 

At UVP, we work alongside the VHTs in our Healthy Villages to build capacity in their health knowledge, sensitization skills, and community mobilization strategies. In addition to their government training, we train our VHT partners in the information and sensitization skills of our program areas (malaria, family planning, HIV/AIDS, WASH, and obstetric fistula), while providing referrals and additional information for identified community issues that UVP programming does not address like bed bugs, jiggers, and malnutrition.  

The work that VHTs do is essential to improving community health, but can also be stressful, frustrating and time consuming. We periodically check in with our VHTs during meetings, outreaches, and mobilizations to troubleshoot the challenges they are facing. This past month we met with the VHTs of Kitukiro, Bukakaire, Nabirere A, and Nabirere B to discuss obstacles and successes in their work. The meetings were dynamic, full of laughter, debate, reflection, and problem solving.  Our conversations tackled challenges on the personal, team, communal, and structural level. Sarah and Sulaina, VHTs from Nabirere A and B, asked about building a more effective team dynamic, leading us to a discussion about personal responsibility, structuring team accountability, and systems of incentive. Jessica, a VHT from Kitukiro, raised the concern that the approaching rainy season would prevent community women interested in long term family planning services from accessing those services at our partner clinics in Iganga town due to increased workload on the farm and poor road conditions. Together, we
looked at different ways to accommodate these women through strategic scheduling, partnerships, and other means. James, a VHT from Bukakaire, spoke of challenging interactions with local government leaders (LCs) who thought the VHT was there to undermine their authority. We resolved to hold a meeting with the LCs to clarify the purpose of the VHT as a resource for community health initiatives. 

Our relationships with our VHTs are rooted in dialogue, empowerment, and collaboration. These VHT meetings are essential to the constant improvement of our programming to better serve the communities we partner with. We are so proud of the strong partnerships we have built with our VHTs and can’t wait for the VHT training sessions we will be holding throughout April!   

1 comment:

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