When health promoters visited her last week, Annet Baddeti, 33, of Nakwero B, Wakiso district, had not yet registered at a hospital to deliver her second child, despite being nine months pregnant.
The community health promoters (CHPs) from Living Goods Uganda, visited Baddeti as part of their quest for improved maternal and child health services at grassroots.
The team advised Baddeti to visit a nearby hospital since she had dangerous signs of complications such as preeclampsia, including swollen legs, fever and back pain.
“CHPs are far better than nurses who always bark at us. They check on us and advise on nutritious foods to eat during pregnancy, as well as the importance of delivering in hospitals,” Baddeti said.
Baddeti said even after birth, CHPs continue to visit them and advise on exclusive breastfeeding, immunization and nutrition. Zakia Nakato, 24, a resident of Nakwero, praised the role of CHPs she first met when she was eight weeks pregnant and they encouraged her to sleep under a mosquito net, go for antenatal services and to have a birth plan for safe delivery.
“CHP advised me to buy Mama kit, take Fansidar to avoid malaria, eat [healthily] and avoid taking alcohol,” she said.
Dr Peter Kaddu from Living Goods Uganda said: “Government has started a community health strategy to recognize every community that has CHPs that provide health services. The ministry is going to identify two people per parish and train them to be community health extension workers at health centres II and at community level,” he said.
Infectious diseases including malaria, diarrhoea, and pneumonia remain a menace to children under five years, although ministry of Health statistics show the mortality rate in that age group has improved in the last decade. This is attributed to better prevention and treatment measures in communities.
Kaddu said CHPs are trusted in communities, since they provide families with health education, accurate diagnoses, treatment and referrals to health facilities when needed.
Brian Kyohure, a father of three, in Kawempe, said he prefers CHP services because they deliver help at his doorstep.
“I get good-quality medicine and better care than I would from the clinic. And I don’t have to travel or wait in line,” he said.
CHPs visit families at home, where they check the children’s health, support pregnant women and advise on at-home health practices. CHPs offer simple treatments for common problems such as nutrition, family planning and money-saving household products.
SMART MOBILE TOOLS
Living Goods also provides every community health promoter with an Android phone equipped with powerful Living Goods-designed apps.
“Our treatment app makes diagnosing child illnesses easy and accurate; it also sends daily dosage reminders to the patient. The pregnancy app helps flag pregnant women at high risk of complications and sends timed SMS health messages to them every week,” Kaddu said. “Living Goods also uses this system to broadcast health messages and money-saving promotions to customers via SMS.”
Health Minister Jane Ruth Aceng said government had recognized the critical role community health workers play and they remain critical in maintaining effective linkages between the community and the health care delivery service points.
It is for this and many other reasons that the government has decided to make additional investments in community health by introducing community health extension workers (CHEWs) who will follow the already- existing platform of village health teams to provide more effective services.