Venson Komakech has devoted the past 10 years of his life to teaching mothers about maternal and infant healthcare. A 48-year-old father of six, Venson is no stranger to the challenges of raising a family.
A Village Health Team (VHT) member in Agago district of Uganda, Venson has become the face of health promotion in Lacekoto village.
“GOAL has given me skills that I didn’t have before. Before I didn’t understand issues dealing with family planning,” Venson says.
Supporting the local community
In Uganda the number of mothers dying in birth was more than double the global average in 2020 at 152 deaths per 100,000 live births. And tragically, at 43 of every 1,000 children born die before they reach the age of five.
The numbers were even higher when Venson signed up to be a VHT. Once he learnt of how grave the situation was for mothers and their babies, all the societal stereotypes traditionally associated with the role became insignificant against the desire to save lives.
“I’m now better equipped to sensitise people in my community. They have started buying in ideas of family planning services offered at the facility,” he says.
With so much experience under his belt, Venson now supervises eight VHTs who are helping to educate and support local mothers in their communities.
Venson meets mothers at a local health facility every week, fielding any questions they may have on maternal health.
Using the family Mid-Upper Arm Circumference (MUAC) tape, Venson also shows women how to tell when their children are malnourished. Posters, flyers and brochures are other visual aids Venson uses to educate women about nutrition as well as family planning methods.
Transforming lives through knowledge and nutrition
With support from Irish Aid, GOAL teams are implementing the Maternal New-born and Child Health and Nutrition (MNCHN) project in 20 health facilities across northern Uganda as part of the ACT Health Systems Strengthening project.
Working in partnership with VHTs, the project strengthens the capacity of health staff to deliver maternal and nutrition services to ensure mothers and their babies are not lost to preventable causes.
As part of the programme VHTs like Venson are trained on maternal newborn and child health and nutrition (MNCHN), family planning and malaria prevention. The initiative focuses on children under five years and enables VHTs to effectively support community education.
Saving lives one session at a time
The invaluable efforts of Venson and his peers have transformed the lives of mothers and children in his community. Thanks to their tireless efforts, Outpatient Department (OPD) attendance at the health facility has improved by 113% over last three months.
“Our antenatal visits for mothers have also seen an improvement with over 88% mothers now attending the 4 antenatal visits at the facility,” said Peter Lubeja who runs the local health centre.
“The VHTs have reduced the gap between the hospital management and the community. They have increased confidence among the people to seek health services at the facility,” Peter continues.
While significant progress has been made, understaffing continues to undermine service delivery at the facility, increasing the reliance on VHTs like Venson.
Peter has been forced to work without leave for the last 3 years “I have made requests for more staff like a nursing assistant to the district authorities but so far there has been no positive response.”
While resourcing challenges remain, Peter is optimistic that, with professional training and the right tools, the VHTs will continue to bridge the gap.