Africa

Jessica, David, and Matuet are members of the community, HIV-positive clients, and a key to HIV care and treatment at Masafu Hospital. {Photo credit: M. Hartley/MSH.}Photo credit: M. Hartley/MSH.

I visited Masafu Hospital in eastern Uganda on a busy Tuesday morning. Tuesdays are antiretroviral therapy (ART) clinic days at this Ugandan facility. Patients come on their designated date for a checkup and to pick up their prescription refill. (Clients get a one month supply of medicines; ideally health workers see the HIV-positive clients once a month to check their health status.)

Three volunteer expert clients --- Jessica, David, and Matuet --- assist the trained health workers on clinic and non-clinic days.

On ART-clinic days, Jessica, David and Matuet organize files, greet patients, inform patients about side effects, educate on prevention methods, support CD4 collection, and communicate with relatives. On non-clinic days, the expert clients reach out to the communities to reduce stigma, inform people about the services available at health centers, and encourage others to know their status.

David explains that he chose to become an expert client because, “I have the challenge too; I want to help others understand HIV better.”

Matuet said, “Other community members don’t want to know their status. I had to stand up.”

{Photo credit: MSH/Democratic Republic of the Congo.}Photo credit: MSH/Democratic Republic of the Congo.

On this historic World Population Day --- the first with the world’s population at seven billion and growing --- we call your attention to a crucial summit in London happening today, and to the ongoing importance of supporting access to family planning and sexual and reproductive health.

The London Summit

Over one hundred high-level decision-makers are convening at The London Summit on Family Planning in hopes of securing a better future for women and girls globally. Hosted by the UK government and The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, with UNFPA and others, the summit seeks to provide an additional 120 million women in resource-poor countries with lifesaving contraceptives, information and family planning services by 2020.

Rabi giving a public awareness lecture on HIV in her locality. {Photo credit: MSH, Nigeria.}Photo credit: MSH, Nigeria.

Rabi gives a public awareness lecture on HIV. (Photo credit: MSH, Nigeria)

Forty-year old Rabi Suleiman lives in Koko Besse area in Kebbi state, Nigeria. She is married without children. Rabi, who now lives with her third husband, recalls that her ordeal with illness and social ostracism began in 2009. Rabi’s three marriages were the result of her inability to conceive, and a continuous search for a partner with whom she could successfully bear children. In the course of her marriages she contracted HIV.

Weakened by continuous infections and emaciated beyond recognition, Rabi recalls that she was abandoned, equated to animal status and locked up in a hut meant for cattle in her family home. Her meals were pushed to her through a door opening by relations who refused to look her in the face.

Today, Rabi has a new story to tell. With the assistance of the Prevention Organizational Systems AIDS Care and Treatment (ProACT) project outreach team, Rabi was enrolled with the USAID-supported ProACT antiretroviral therapy (ART) program in the General Hospital, Koko, late in 2009.

Sophia is now the go-to person for family planning and reproductive health services at Rwesande health center IV in western Uganda. {Photo credit: M. Hartley/MSH.}Photo credit: M. Hartley/MSH.

Sophia is a humble woman. She has been working as a nurse for 10 years, and is currently one of five nurses posted at Rwesande health center IV in the hills of western Uganda.

When I arrived I was impressed by the number of services the health center offers, and the general appreciation felt around the compound. Rwesande health center IV has a maternity ward to safely deliver babies; counseling areas for family planning, reproductive health, and HIV; a general ward, a surgery theater, and health education space.

Family planning counseling and services now available

As Sophia shows me her meticulously-kept record books I can see the pride she takes in her work. She explained how women are now coming and asking for family planning services.

Not too long ago clients were not coming, and the nurses didn’t have proper training on methods to offer clients.

Ezekiel Kyasesa, village health team coordinator in western Uganda. {Photo credit: Margaret Hartley/MSH.}Photo credit: Margaret Hartley/MSH.

Ezekiel Kyasesa is a village health team coordinator and supervisor in Kasese District, western Uganda. He supports 11 villages, 90 parishes, and 2 health centers.

Ezekiel has been working in community health for a few years, but only on a small scale. A year ago, he was selected to attend a training provided by STRIDES for Family Health to learn new family planning, child survival, and reproductive health information and the skills to become a village health team member. He was then nominated by his peers to become the coordinator and supervisor.

Now Ezekiel is educated and has the skills to go out to the communities and talk to people about the benefits of going to the health center for a range of services. The village health teams are a crucial link to sharing knowledge and information between the clinics and the communities.

Ezekiel and his village health team visit 10 households two days each week (20 visits per team member each week). He explained that they discuss with the mothers --- the key person to a healthy family --- four topics:

Meet Okata and his grandmother, watch the video.Meet Okata and his grandmother, watch the video.

On this World Health Day, we invite you to meet Okata, a 3-year-old orphan living with HIV, and his grandmother, his caretaker.

World Health Day, celebrated April 7th, marks the founding of the World Health Organization. This year's theme, "Good health adds life to years," encourages the global community to rethink what it means to be "old".

Watch the video, Building a Stronger Health System in Uganda, and share Okata's story with your network of family and friends.

(Left to right) Aaron Musiimenta, assistant regional behavior change communication officer; Tadeo Atuhura, STRIDES for Family Health communications specialist; Dr. Baseka Yusuf, district health officer; and Kevin Kisembo, principal nursing officer and STRIDES focal person. Kasese, Uganda. {Photo credit: Margaret Hartley/MSH.}Photo credit: Margaret Hartley/MSH.

The Kasese district in western Uganda is nestled between two national parks. Located hours from the capital city, Kampala, the region attracts tourists to view gorillas and mountain birds.

During my recent trip to Uganda, I met with Dr. Yusuf Baseka, the district health officer of Kasese, who described the health challenges his district faces, and his hopes for the future.

Although the national parks are beautiful and bring a much needed economic boost to the area, they also offer a challenge, Dr. Baseka explained.  The population growth and fertility rate of the district are very high. With the two national parks, there is no land for expansion. The town of Kasese is rapidly becoming a slum with unsanitary conditions that are difficult to address.

Another challenge in his district is that children are not going to or staying in school. They are leaving secondary school early and engaging in risky sexual behaviors. He explains, “We’ve seen a dramatic increase in young mothers, under 18 years, some as young as 12.” Their pregnancies offer unique challenges for the health system to address.

Godgift and his caregiver receiving educational supplies from the Executive Director of Synergycare Initiative. {Photo credit: Anayo Chike Charles/MSH.}Photo credit: Anayo Chike Charles/MSH.

Early one morning Mrs. Fred woke up and found a boy outside her house. Alarmed and curious, she asked him why he was there. Godgift, as he identified himself, told her that the continuous appearance of a snake where he lived forced him to abandon the place he called home, after numerous futile attempts to frighten it off with pepper. Highly disturbed, she arranged for him to eat in a nearby restaurant whenever he showed up by her house.

The boy, Godgift Henshaw, is 13 years old. Godgift's mother took him along when she left her husband and eloped with another man. When the burden of care got too heavy, she left Godgift with her mother in Agbia community, Bayelsa State, Nigeria. Godgift’s grandmother beat and neglected him. Most of the time he went without food and often slept outside the house. Finally, she labeled him a wizard and abandoned him, fleeing from their home.

The landlord evicted Godgift when there was no one to pay the rent. He took refuge in an uncompleted building in a nearby bush, completely at the mercy of the elements. Abandoned and stigmatized (following his identification as a wizard), he fed himself by doing odd jobs.

Uganda's Koboko health center IV store: Left, boxes of medicine and supplies piled in a store room before the SURE program's capacity building training. Right, Lebu Akim, stores assistant, in the newly organized medicine and supplies room. {Photo credits: Jimmy Ondoma/MSH.}Photo credits: Jimmy Ondoma/MSH.

Over the years, the Koboko health centre IV located in the West Nile region of Uganda has experienced challenges in the management of essential medicines and health supplies. Stock-outs of vital medicines were widespread, while huge quantities of slow-moving medicines were at risk of expiring. These problems were attributed to health workers’ poor skills in logistics management. In addition, there a was lack of reliable information to guide staff on when and what to order since stock cards were not regularly updated.

In July 2011, USAID's Securing Ugandans’ Right to Essential Medicines (SURE) program, led by Management Sciences for Health (MSH), began capacity-building activities aimed at strengthening essential medicines and health supplies systems at health facilities in the region. SURE has used the supervision, performance assessment, and recognition approach in 45 districts in Uganda. This approach involves mentoring and coaching pharmacy and stores’ staff at private not-for-profit and public health facilities in medicines management.

Mbambu, a midwife at a western Ugandan health center. {Photo credit: MSH.}Photo credit: MSH.

Mbambu is a midwife who works at Isole Health Center III in rural Western Uganda. When I had the opportunity to visit with her, she was the only health care provider at the center. Trained as a midwife nine years ago, her passion for her job pours out of her. Since primary school, becoming a midwife "was always my mission,” she said.

A little over a year ago, Mbambu was trained in family planning and reproductive health skills by STRIDES for Family Health, a USAID-funded program in Uganda led by MSH. Prior to the training, the health center could only offer education and basic family planning services.

Now Mbambu educates women who are waiting to have their children immunized or receive antenatal treatment about family planning, healthy spacing and timing of pregnancies, and the benefits of delivering at a health center. Her new skills also empower her to administer basic and long-term family planning services.

Mbambu shared a compelling story that I promised I would share with others:

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