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Beatrice and the Power of Uganda's Community Health Champions

Beatrice accompanies six young mothers as they await laboratory results. Photo courtesy of Samuel Olobo.

Beatrice accompanies six young mothers as they await laboratory results. Photo courtesy of Samuel Olobo.

"My heart has chosen to help."

By Samuel Olobo
Social behavior change communications officer, RHITES-E

Beatrice Asekenye is a 39-year-old single mother of three. She’s also a trained village health team (VHT) champion in Uganda’s Kobuku ward in Ngora Town Council and she’s making a difference in her community one mother at a time.

Beatrice is part of a team of 15 VHT champions in Ngora Town Council who were trained and deployed by IntraHealth International’s USAID-funded Regional Health Integration to Enhance Services in Eastern Uganda (RHITES-E) project to promote healthy living in their communities. RHITES-E provides VHT champions with training on maternal, neonatal, and child health, family planning, nutrition, malaria, and HIV, and supports them with tools to do their work.

During home visits in their communities, VHT champions provide health education, identify health issues and refer clients to the right health facilities, and discuss key issues that affect their villages and parishes.

Since the training, Beatrice has been referring and escorting pregnant women to Ngora Health Center 1V for antenatal care, family planning, and delivery as part of her day-to-day job. She’s gained the confidence to discuss health issues and is proud to help those who lack information—especially women.

“Ever since I was trained, I gained more knowledge and a lot of respect in the community,” she says. “Even when I go to the well for water, people want to ask me health questions.”

Beatrice takes advantage of small gatherings at wells, marketplaces, village associations, and churches to pass on messages about child spacing, antenatal care, proper infant feeding, and HIV prevention and treatment.

Some young mothers she talks to about family planning fear being stigmatized by health workers or other clients at the center if they ask for contraceptives. For these women, Beatrice says, “I offer to escort them straight to the nurses who give them a service and then we come back together. I don’t get any material help or payment from these mothers or the health facility, but my heart has chosen to help, and I know my reward will come from heaven one day.”

VHT champions also play a key role in mobilizing and sensitizing communities during home visits to ensure people can access a variety of health services at a health facility near them. Data from monthly review meetings show improvement in the number of community-facility referrals, thanks to the work of the VHT champions—the outreach has directly resulted in better attendance at first trimester antenatal care visits throughout the region.

“I delivered my first child at home because my friends told me nurses abuse and chase away women who fail to come dressed appropriately,” says 24-year-old Achan Norah. “Being a single mother, I feared to come to the health facility. But I am thankful to Beatrice for educating me on the importance of attending antenatal care visits—she escorted me to the health center. The nurses assured me my baby is okay and I’m being treated well.”