Excerpts from The Observer website.
The ministry of Health plans to turn the country’s Village Health Teams (VHTs) into salary earners.
According to the minister of state for Primary Health Care, Sarah Achieng Opendi, the teams currently working as volunteers are critical in health service delivery.
Opendi made the revelation during the third International Conference on Family Planning (ICFP), which ended in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, last week.
Opendi said the Ugandan delegation had learnt a lot about how Ethiopia managed to use their Health Extension Workers (HEWs) – the equivalent of VHTs in Uganda – to increase use of contraceptives and improve health indicators in the countryside.
Ethiopia’s ministry of Health selects two members of a village, who are trained for a year before they are sent back into the community. The skills obtained from the training are used to treat small ailments as well as distribute contraceptives to women. They are also trained to administer injectable contraceptives such as Depo Provera – the most sought-after contraceptive.
The Ethiopian health extension workers are trained to identify complicated health issues and refer them to health centres. They also help identify expectant mothers in the village, who they visit at home and talk about the importance of antenatal care and giving birth with skilled attendance.
Because they are paid, the HEWs are motivated in their job. Being community members makes it easier for them to win the trust of the targeted women.
“We are implementing movements of communities through participatory action meetings. We are trying to mobilise three million women voluntary leaders to bring social transformation in Ethiopia. We want to reduce unmet need and reach an additional 6.7 million women who want to avoid unintended pregnancies,” said Dr Ketesebirhan Admasu, Ethiopia’s Health minister.
There has been an annual two per cent increment in contraceptive outreach and Dr Admasu says this is the highest in any country in the world. Ethiopia’s HEWs have helped reduce under-five mortality rate, improved maternal health and helped double the prevalence of contraceptives.
Opendi hopes that given the lessons from Ethiopia, Uganda’s own VHTs will help increase contraceptive prevalence which stands at 31 per cent and help reduce the country’s unmet need for family planning.