UGANDA PROGRAM OVERVIEW
Uganda is an East African country of 38.9 million with an average annual income of $584 per person. The average Ugandan has a life expectancy of 59 years and 1 in every 23 infants dies before their first birthday. The leading causes of death and disability are HIV and malaria.
Despite the challenges, Uganda is slowly growing. A secure health infrastructure and a sustainable health workforce are vital factors that underpin economic growth and societal progress. Moreover, these factors are keystones of health equity and social justice.
Omni Med began work in Uganda in March 2008 as part of the Brookings Institution's International Volunteering and Service Initiative. This initiative is designed to increase the number of US volunteers who serve around the world each year. In April of 2007, Dr. O'Neil was asked to chair a working group at Brookings on the dire healthcare worker shortage in Sub-Saharan Africa, estimated to be around 1.5 million short. In this program, we created an innovative means to engage US health volunteers to address this critical health worker shortage. In Omni Med's model, US health volunteers, under close supervision of Omni Med staff, train Ugandan community health workers, and coordinate efforts in which they construct protected water sources, clean cookstoves and install ITNs. The Ugandan Ministry of Health (MOH) has embraced the program and requested that Omni Med assume responsibility for the Village Health Teams (VHT) Initiative for the entire Mukono District, some 650,000 people. VHTs are locally elected community health workers who provide immediate care for their local communities, offering a full range of preventive and treatment services to the most rural populations. An innovative aspect of the program is the rigorous evaluation of the volunteers impact, something decidedly lacking but desperately needed in the service sector.
The program is based in the Mukono district of Eastern Uganda. Training for volunteers occurs principally on site, but also through a large amount of training materials supplied beforehand. A variant of the Ugandan-generated Village Health Team Manual serves as the basis for training, and US instructors cover all areas within, including malaria, maternal-child issues, sanitation, clean drinking water, etc. As of 2017, Omni Med has sent more than 100 volunteers to Uganda to train 1250 VHTs, conduct hundreds of quarterly educational meetings, several thousand home visits, and bring significant innovation, passion, and dedication to our research and ongoing life-saving work.
We will soon publish a randomized controlled trial that demonstrated the impact of the Omni Med program on health behaviors and disease incidence in the Mukono District. In partnership with The George Washington University and Makerere University, we conducted a second, cross-sectional study on how VHTs can be optimally supported and sustained in their work. This was recently submitted for publication. A third trial measuring the efficacy of using Kindle Fire Tablets as training tools was published in September 2018. Additional trials currently planned or underway include measuring the efficacy of an "Enhanced VHT Model" combining the MOH VHT program with our additional protected water sources, ITN distribution, and cookstove construction; and measuring the efficacy of the Kindle Fire Tablets in comprehensive MOH ICCM week-long training sessions. The goal of all of our research is to hold our feet to the fire, rigorously assessing the impact of our programs and identifying areas needing improvement or change. Volunteers have played important and central roles in all of these research projects and we plan to continue this model of volunteer-driven research in the years ahead. The ultimate goal of our research is to develop a scalable program with a rich knowledge base that can serve as a template throughout the country, and East Africa. We fully expect that the benefits to the volunteers, the US image abroad, and, most importantly, to those in the villages served, will be substantial.
We are looking for motivated volunteers who are currently working or training to work in a health-related field. As of 2015, we began to send mature undergraduate students with interests in health, education and social justice issues. We encourage all interested in this model to apply. Together with our volunteers, we seek to partner with current and future VHTs, working towards our ultimate goal: community empowerment in health. Anyone interested in getting involved, please contact Dr O’Neil at email@example.com.
For a more comprehensive overview of the program and its structure, please our comprehensive orientation manual.