Educated community members help their neighbors stay healthy

Brenda Apio, a Community Health Worker (CHW) from Lira City in the Lango sub-region of northern Uganda, has always wanted to help people improve their overall health. Cases of malaria are high where she lives, and poor sanitation and sanitation practices result in common but preventable illnesses. Ronald Meri, another Lira City CHW, had similar hopes of educating neighbors about preventable diseases.

That USAID Regional Health Integration to Enhance Services-North, Lango (RHITES-N, Lango) project supported the Uganda Ministry of Health (MOH) in conducting a pilot project to train CHWs as Community Health Extension Workers (CHEWs) in Lira. CHEWs, a new cadre in the Ugandan government’s health structure, are being trained to promote disease prevention behaviors among community members. Unlike regular CHWs, they also support prenatal/birth and child care, immunizations, malaria, pneumonia, family planning, and nutritional services.

To become a CHEW, participants must complete four months of classroom training and two months of hands-on fieldwork. Brenda and Ronald were two of the 166 CHWs who completed the CHW pilot program in mid-November in a ceremony presided over by the Honorable Dr. Jane Ruth Aceng Ocero, Uganda’s Health Minister.

Brenda now tests for malaria, does nutritional testing, identifies danger signs of pregnancy and vaccinates her community members. She also distributed medicines to patients during her two-month internship at the facility. Brenda believes she will “make positive change in my community by conducting home visits and focus group discussions to identify and evaluate waste management and water, sanitation and hygiene practices. For example, I will take action by mobilizing the community to clean up areas around water sources… and raising awareness about malaria case management.”

During his field internship, Ronald worked with VHTs, community council leaders and health workers to improve health in his community. He models appropriate hygiene practices in his own home and shares information on how to improve hygiene conditions through home visits, health education and community dialogue. He also conducts malaria, HIV and pregnancy tests and distributes select medicines in his community.

“By being a liaison between the community and the facility in the fight against neglected preventable diseases, I will help ease the pressure on health care workers and improve the health of my community,” says Ronald.

Most importantly, I know how to write a referral form for the community members to use in cases I can’t handle,” says Ronald.

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