Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Advancing Health, Bringing Peace: Realizing Equity in Uganda

October 01, 2013

More than a year ago, I saw a call for applications to the Global Health Corps fellowship in a local newspaper. Without a doubt, I knew this was it.

At the time, I was at crossroads in my career and I longed to make something substantial with my life. I wasn’t satisfied with simply using my platform as a journalist to highlight the plight of women and children or the agony patients go through while seeking basic healthcare at public health facilities in Uganda. Quite often, these issues are not given the due time and attention they deserve in mainstream media and are replaced by sweeping inconsequential remarks by politicians.

 Human rights work in Uganda is not a bed of roses. Quite often activists run in with the law for being vocal or even stepping on the “wrong toes.” To be involved in this kind of work, one has to have courage of convictions and a support system to achieve set goals in such a challenging space.

I needed to do more. The Global Health Corps fellowship program brought all of my interests together – social justice, global health, advocacy, individual participation and contribution to positive societal transformation.

The Global Health Corps community embodies the values I was looking for. As a young professional, I knew this network would be an incubator and support system for my career switch from journalism to advocacy work.

Human rights work in Uganda is not a bed of roses. Quite often activists run in with the law for being vocal or even stepping on the “wrong toes.” To be involved in this kind of work, one has to have courage of convictions and a support system to achieve set goals in such a challenging space.

The Global Health Corps fellowship gave me the opportunity to actively participate in processes that inspire positive change at all levels of society. With this dependable support system my fears were allayed. As a Global Health Corps fellow, I was launched into this proactive role as a Communications and Documentations fellow working with Action for Community Development (ACODEV), a local nongovernmental organization that empowers individuals and communities in rural Uganda in the areas of human rights, HIV/AIDS, reproductive and child health.

I was paired with a young, passionate American professional. We not only worked together, but also learned and grew both personally and professionally as we benefited our placement organization, ourselves, the communities we lived in and contributed to the global movement for health equity. Even though we came from different cultures, we blended in well and complimented each other – at and away from work.

Working together with my passionate co-fellow, our goal was to elevate the organization’s work in order to build partnerships for social justice, health equity and to inspire people into proactively contributing to their own and societal development.

 More than anything else, these experiences opened my eyes to the fact that we all have a role to play in the transformation of the communities in which we live and work.

Together as a team we accomplished a lot. We facilitated and designed trainings for 105 community volunteers in the areas of HIV prevention and dialoguing, gender mainstreaming, communications and documentation. These community volunteers reached over 5,000 beneficiaries with HIV prevention messages.

Together, we coordinated and raised funds towards relief and recovery efforts for over 20,000 people displaced by flooding in Kasese where we were based. The support we received from partners, well-wishers and the entire Global Health Corps community affirmed that indeed as GHC fellows our contributions toward societal transformation were invaluable and critical wherever we worked.

One of my first assignments was investigating the causes of the high numbers of maternal and neonatal deaths in the Rwenzori region of Western Uganda. This was under the Maternal, Neonatal and Child Health program funded by Save the Children Uganda. In just one hospital, 28 newborn babies had died in one month. Nationwide, a total of 16 women die every day due to childbirth complications.

This investigation was inspired by the need to address the high number of maternal and neonatal deaths in this region. Our first step was working with health professionals to ensure that all maternal and neonatal deaths were rightly documented in the maternal and neonatal death audit books provided by the Ministry of Health (MoH).

This was crucial because the health facility is mandated by law to submit a maternal or/and neonatal death notification to the District Health Officer (DHO) and MoH as soon as death is confirmed.

After this process is complete, the health workers meet to review the circumstances that lead to the death and come up with possible interventions to prevent future maternal and neonatal deaths. These meetings help the health workers to learn from oversights leading to the death, and ways to better manage similar cases in the future, thereby preventing unnecessary deaths of mothers and newborns.

However, in most of the health facilities we visited, this crucial procedure was often ignored. Staff at some health facilities did not know how to enter data in the audit books and other health facilities were understaffed.

As a result, a number of preventable deaths continued to occur and often went undocumented. This is unacceptable.

Our mandate did not stop at investigating the factors that caused the maternal and neonatal deaths, but extended towards teaching health workers in these health facilities how to enter data in the audit books. Together with health workers, we developed strategies that would facilitate the documentation of maternal and neonatal deaths in incidences where the health facility was understaffed.

Sitting with these health workers and coming up with tailored strategies to reduce the number of maternal and neonatal deaths gave me the sense that indeed positive change is possible at all levels of society.

Individual actions are crucial in attaining sustainable positive change. I realized that taking proactive steps, though incremental, can lead to systemic change.

In the remaining days of my one year Global Health Corps fellowship, I launched a campaign to raise finances towards graduate school. For every dollar donated, I mentored young people in creative reading and writing to not only improve their reading and writing skills but also open their minds to new experiences and possibilities.

Within a week of mentoring, the young boys and girls were confident writers and began contributing articles to their school’s inaugural newsletter, which I designed and published. More than anything else, these experiences opened my eyes to the fact that we all have a role to play in the transformation of the communities in which we live and work. 

 By embracing a philosophy of active problem solving and partnership that is designed to bring about real and sustainable progress, we can realize equity in all its different forms.

Once a need is identified, it is incumbent on the community or individual to engineer strategies that improve on the living conditions in that community without compromising general welfare, values or community development. This is not just the role of government. All individuals have a duty to actively participate in processes that contribute to the sustainable development and growth of their communities and countries. As an individual, you do not have to wait for the government to do this.

Global Health Corps believes that everyone has a role to play in advancing social justice. By embracing a philosophy of active problem solving and partnership that is designed to bring about real and sustainable progress, we can realize equity in all its different forms. 

I brought this philosophy to my current role as a graduate student at the World Peace Academy in Basel, Switzerland, where I am applying it to all I do and sharing my viewpoint with the passionate men and women deeply interested in contributing to world peace.

Peace, just like health, is fundamental to human existence. Without either one, life can be suffocated.

The authenticity of Global Health Corps as a global movement of young passionate leaders and professionals working towards the realization of social justice affirms the significance of collective efforts and the active involvement of young people in contributing towards a world where everyone is treated with dignity and allowed to flourish and live fulfilled lives. This is a philosophy I have carried with me at the World Peace Academy and intend to carry with me wherever I am inspired to serve.

 
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