Monday February 10 2014

The power of mobile health village health teams

William Ochan, a mobile Village Health Team volunteer, shares with Brenda Acayo (R), and her family, the information he received about her postnatal service appointments.

William Ochan, a mobile Village Health Team volunteer, shares with Brenda Acayo (R), and her family, the information he received about her postnatal service appointments. Photo BY Roland D. Nasasira. 

By Roland D. Nasasira

The ever increasing rate of using mobile phone technology to solve problems, has eased the way in which one can save a sick person’s life through sharing information. The Ministry of Health in partnership with World Vision Uganda with much regard to mobile health, introduced a radio talk show called Obbanywa that trains and educates the mobile health Village Health Teams (VHT) as a way of reaching out to households due to shortage of medical personnel.

Obbanywa is a name of a village in Kiboga District where the first radio distance learning programme was recorded. This programme supplements the existing Village Health Team efforts by providing continuous educational and training skills that will equip them to go about their work.

The first episode was aired on a local radio station on April 10, 2013 in Kiboga District. The programme involved educating the VHTs about the map of their villages and locating where the sick, elderly and children under five years are, as well as hospitals and schools. During the programme, they sit in groups of four to five and listen in. After that, questions are sent to them by a mobile health application and they in turn answer accordingly.

Brenda Acayo, a 17-year-old resident of Yeba Parish in Mucwini Central, Kitgum District, is one of the beneficiaries of the mobile VHT. Pregnant in Primary Six, with no one to turn to, Acayo turned to the VHT for help.

“I had a healthy pregnancy but the most difficult part was during delivery. I was told I was too small and the doctor had to perform a caesarean operation on me,” Acayo says with a tint of sadness in her eyes. Acayo attributes the successful birth of her child, who is now four months old, to Immaculate Acayo, one of the mobile VHT members in Yeba parish Mucwini Sub-county Kitgum District, who supported her through out her pregnancy.

“Acayo (VHT) put so much emphasis on the number of times [four] I should go for antenatal care and also not to give birth from home but rather a healthy facility,” the mother says. All this information had been sent to Immaculate through a mobile health application on a phone that World Vision gave her. The application is set up and monitored by World Vision Uganda.

Immaculate is required to deliver the information she receives on this phone to the people in need through home visits and community gatherings, focusing on pregnant mothers. Immaculate was trained and equipped to counsel pregnant women through the Timely and Targeted Counselling model under mobile health, mobilise them every month to attend integrated outreaches where they receive services like antenatal care and HIV/Aids testing and counselling.

Henry Turinayo, a mobile VHT member from Bumbuli village in Kiboga District says he was chosen by the community because of his level of trust, capability and medical background and holds a certificate in laboratory medicine. As a VHT, he is supposed to educate the community members, through community gatherings and home visits. He further says that their work has brought about a fundamental change in their communities since he is able to receive a message reminder by phone and fewer people now visit health centres since there is no cause of diseases and all are aware of the preventive methods.

The VHT’s work has been enhanced by continuous trainings, mobile phones message reminders, localised radio learning programmes and bicycles which makes their work much easier.

“As a leader in my group, I make sure that the VHTs do their work accordingly and monitor them about the same,” Turinayo says. “What every member of a particular village health team does is that when they receive a phone reminder message from a mobile health application set up, and monitored by World Vision Uganda, about when a given mother is due for the next antenatal care visits or their child for immunisation, the VHT member makes an effort of visiting that mother in their home to remind them about their next task. The mother is followed up until the four required antenatal visits are complete and also takes her children for proper and complete immunisation,” Turinayo adds.

William Ochan, another member of VHT Yeba Parish Mucwini Sub-County in Kitgum District, says the phone World Vision gave him makes his work easier.
“It makes work very easy for me to send and receive information from the facilitators application and they like the work I do.” says Ochan. He also says the phonehas turned out to be his home office that he and the people in Yeba especially, the pregnant women and children, use as a reminder to go for their next antenatal and immunisation visits.

After receiving health-related messages on phone from the mobile health application, Ochan makes sure that he calls for community gatherings and delivers the information to the people in his community. He also sets a reminder on the phone to alert him when it is time carry out the next village visits and outreaches for the benefit of the community.

The community’s reception of VHTs
“Mobile health was perceived well by the community because it offers VHTs ability to treat minor illnesses like malaria, diarrhoea and bacterial infections for children. It works in a way that when the VHT feeds information of symptoms and signs of a given sick person to the application using their phones, it gives feedback to administer the patient with a particular medication, says Geoffrey Ssembajjwe, a mobile health coordinator with World Vision.

“With this scale up, in the future we foresee a reduction in maternal and child mortality, one of the key millennium development goals targets, assuming all the factors are constant like drug provisions by government and availability of medical workers at health centres where the government is still trying hard to deliver but is still a big challenge,” he says.