Development partners, districts and all stakeholders who have implemented the Village Health Team Strategy (VHT) have called upon the Ugandan Ministry of Health to prioritize the Village Health Teams to acknowledge their contribution.
This was the theme of the recent VHT stakeholders’ conference held at Lake View Resort Hotel Mbarara, February 20th, 2015 where all VHT stakeholders gathered to share their experiences and lessons learned in implementing the VHT Strategy. Stakeholders included Non-Governmental Organizations, districts, Ministry of Health officials and members from academia. The conference was organized by the Ministry of Health and Healthy Child Uganda, with a contribution of financial support from Canadian Government, through the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development.
Representing the Ministry of Health, Dr. Paul Kagwa, the Assistant Commissioner for Health Promotion and Education division, called upon all stakeholders to support VHTs at all levels: “VHT activities should be planned and budgeted for at all levels, from national to village levels.”
During his presentation, Dr. Kenya Mugisha, the chairman of Uganda Medical and Dental Practitioners remarked that VHTs’ roles cut across all health aspects of nutrition, tuberculosis, malaria, HIV/AIDS, and cervical cancer. Yet, implementation of the VHT strategy is left to only the Health Promotion Division; he called upon other divisions under ministry to prioritize the VHT program, emphasizing the need to integrate health programming.
District leaders expressed appreciation of the contribution VHTs have made in promoting hygiene at household level: mobilizing and sensitizing communities for health services where antenatal attendance and deliveries at health facilities were reported to be high. Despite these remarkable achievements, district leaders expressed the need to motivate VHTs even when their mandate is to offer voluntary health services. It was noted that the role of motivating and rewarding VHT efforts has been mostly done by development partners yet when projects close this tends to cease and later leads to attrition. Participants recommended that the Ministry of Health consider rewards for VHTs.
Interestingly, there are districts that reported to have come up with ways of motivating VHTs to assist them in carrying out voluntary services, especially in transport to facilitate their monthly and quarterly meetings. Dr Nassanga, District Health Officer for Mpigi District provides an example from his district: “Health Centre IIs are advised to contribute at least shs.50,000 per quarter to help in VHT activities, Health Centre IIIs are requested to contribute shs 100,000 quarterly, and Health Centre IVs are requested to contribute shs.400,000 quarterly.”
Other noteworthy presentations from the conference include a report from Malaria Consortium, which showed how VHTs have contributed to an increase in health seeking behaviors in communities. The report indicated that incidence of caregivers seeking treatment for fever from VHTs has increased from 2% to 49%, while seeking treatment for pneumonia has increased from 2% to 43%, and from 1% to 37% for cases of diarrhea.
Similarly, Healthy Child Uganda’s report for 2014 shows tremendous improvement in key health indicators in Bushenyi from 2012-2014, where VHTs have played an important role in maternal, newborn and child health. The report indicates an increase in postnatal care coverage from 43% to 80%, exclusive breast feeding practices increased among respondents from 49% to 60%, while diarrhea in children under the age of five dropped from 19% to 12%.
Healthy Child Uganda was pleased to participate and co-host this important event, to bring stakeholders together in reflecting and sharing experiences on working with VHTs. The conference has garnered hope and exciting prospects for community health, with renewed commitment from the Ministry of Health and partners in working with VHTs and improving the health of mothers, children and newborns in Uganda.