Reducing child deaths through the efforts of local "health ambassadors" in
rural Uganda

OTTAWA, June 25 /CNW Telbec/ - In a region of southwestern Uganda that previously had a high incidence of child mortality and limited access to health care the situation has dramatically reversed due to the efforts of volunteers who are trained through a Ugandan-Canadian partnership, Healthy Child Uganda (HCU).

Uganda is known for having one of the highest child death rates in the world. Wishing to find a solution, a group of Ugandans proposed an idea to a team of visiting Canadian doctors in 2003. Their vision was to have local community members trained as volunteer "child health ambassadors" who would provide health education, manage simple child diseases, identify children with severe conditions and refer them for treatment.

This African-driven solution got underway when Uganda's Mbarara University of Science and Technology collaborated with the University of Calgary, Dalhousie University and the Canadian Paediatric Society to design the project. The partnership received a significant boost from financing from the Canadian International Development Agency in 2003 and again in 2006 specifically for university, health district and community-level training in child health.

Administered by the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada through their University Partnerships in Cooperation and Development program, the HCU goal is to promote proper hygiene, sanitation, and good maternal and child health practices, including immunization to reduce illness and death in children under five years old.

Now seven years later illness and malnutrition are dramatically reduced, and the work of local volunteer community health workers is benefitting approximately 20,000 children under five.

"Our model is quite simple and low-cost, yet has demonstrated that volunteers, including those with little formal education, can significantly improve child health and catalyze community engagement," says Dr. Jenn Brenner, the project director of Healthy Child Uganda since its inception, and a University of Calgary paediatrician.

Training a volunteer costs less than $40. Volunteers register all children under five years in their village and keep track of the general health and immunization for the 60 or so children assigned to each of them.

Treatment for a child dehydrated from diarrhea costs only pennies and can be provided at home by the parents. A mosquito net to prevent malaria, the biggest killer of children in the area, costs $6.

Increased Support and International Awards

Since 2000, HCU has received generous support from the Mayfair Rotary Club in Edmonton and a number of private Canadian donors. In 2008, Buy-A-Net, an initiative based in Kingston, Ontario contributed 12,000 insecticide-treated bed nets to children in HCU communities.

Recent grants have come from the British Council, and the Africa Health Systems Initiative - Support to African Research Partnerships, a project administered by the Ottawa-based International Development Research Centre.

"HCU has made a difference in mothers and children through education about good hygiene, nutrition, preventive services, early detection services and even income generating," notes Dr. Jerome Kabakyenga, the dean of the Faculty of Medicine at Mbarara University of Science and Technology in Uganda. "Now we are sharing lessons learned and incorporated them into guidelines for setting up village health teams to be used across the country."

Asked about the factors of HCU's success, Dr. Kabakyenga replied that much is due to the focus on education and applying the principle of "using what you have."

HCU has received numerous awards including first place for outreach and community relations from the Association of Commonwealth Universities. The project has also been featured in the prestigious Lancet medical journal in 2009. A 30-minute documentary, "Suubi: Hope for the Children of Uganda", filmed by Calgary's Rick Castiglione, highlights the project's success and was first aired in April, 2009 on CTV Alberta.

"Healthy Child Uganda is a happy story about Africa - about Ugandans helping themselves and creating a brighter future for Uganda's children," says Dr. Brenner. "HCU has been successful because volunteers, communities and donors have stepped in with so much support."

OPTIONAL SIDEBARS

Since the Project came, Burials have Decreased

"Deaths among children have decreased. This is demonstrated by the period we used to spend without experiencing death. We never used to spend two months without burying a child, mainly because of malaria. But since (our local volunteers were trained), burials have decreased. We can now spend a year without losing a child. They sleep under nets, don't drink dirty water and eat well."

-Focus group participant, Mbarara district, April 2009

Dr. Kabakyenga wins Top Award that Honours Canadian Surgeon

Dr. Kabakyenga, who is a specialist in maternal and child health, was awarded a US$200,000 Teasdale-Corti Global Health Leadership Award, which has supported his research on obstructed prolonged labour. The award, from Canada's Global Health Research Initiative, is named in honour of Canadian surgeon Dr. Lucille Teasdale and her physician husband, Dr. Piero Corti, for their 35 years of bringing medical services to Uganda's Gulu region amidst war, poverty and disease.

Available resources:

"Uganda registers successes with child-health volunteers", article in The Lancet, Volume 374, November 21, 2009, p. 1735 http://download.thelancet.com/pdfs/journals/lancet/PIIS0140673609620080.pdf

"U of C physicians are helping African communities improve child health through education and empowerment", UMagazine, Calgary University, Winter 2009 http://www.ucalgary.ca/news/uofcpublications/umagazine/winter2009/uganda

For a Teasdale-Corti Global Health Leadership Awards video of Jerome Kabakyenga talking about his work see http://www.idrc.ca/en/ev-134131-201-1-DO_TOPIC.html

SOURCE Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada

For further information: For further information: or to arrange an interview with Dr. Jenn Brenner, please contact: Elizabeth Smith, Communications Manager, Partnerships Program, AUCC, 613 563-3961, extension 246, email: esmith@aucc.ca; Healthy Child Uganda: hcu@ucalgary.ca, Website: www.healthychilduganda.org; Uganda Project Director: Dr. Jerome Kabakyenga, Tel: 011-256-485-20786 (note time difference - Uganda = Ontario EDT + 7 hours), email: jkabakyenga@gmail.com

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