Building capacity of Village Health Teams to promote nutritional health in Fort Portal and Kabarole District in Uganda.


By Bwambale Bernard, Nutrition Program Manager, KRC Uganda.

Malnutrition is a public health issue affecting mostly vulnerable groups of people, including young children, lactating and pregnant women. The magnitude of problem requires that malnutrition is accorded a public health response. The Uganda Food and Nutrition Policy (2003) calls for a coordination of activities of all government institutions, Non-Governmental Organizations and Community Based Organizations involved in food and nutrition programs in their areas of jurisdiction; to ensure that the community is adequately sensitized and mobilized for food and nutrition programs.

In the Fort Portal Food Systems Lab, KRC Uganda works with the Village Health Teams (VHTs) as frontline stakeholders in sensitizing communities on nutrition. This role is in-line with their official mandate as established by the government. Uganda adopted the Village Health Teams (VHTs) strategy in 2001 as a bridge in health service delivery between community and health facilities. Amongst other roles, VHTs mobilize communities for health actions, promote health to prevent disease and keeps village records up to date.

To enhance this community collaboration for better nutrition outcomes, KRC Uganda conducted a study on community perceptions on the burden of malnutrition and child stunting in the Tooro Sub Region[1] amongst different food systems stakeholders including farmers, Village Health Teams (VHTs), District Nutrition Coordination Committee and community members among others to understand the primary risk factors to the high burden of malnutrition as well as seek   public opinion on the priority areas to curb malnutrition. From the study, it was noted that the knowledge gap on nutrition among community members was one of the foremost risk factors to the malnutrition burden. It was also recommended that that the capacity of the Village Health Teams and community leaders be strengthened to support in community sensitization, nutrition active case finding, referral and follow-up of cases. As such, KRC prioritized building capacity of the Village Health Teams and community leaders through training sessions on food and nutrition to enhance their knowledge on nutrition in order for them to effectively carry out their roles. Overall, seventy-five (75) VHTs and local leaders were trained in Karangura Sub County in Kabarole District. They were also re-oriented in their roles and responsibilities in community mobilization and sensitization.

At the local level, VHTs remain a poised structure, playing a pivotal role in promoting proper nutrition and healthy living. However, in order to perform their roles more efficiently to curb malnutrition, the capacity of VHTs and local leaders needs continuous strengthening in order to deal with emerging issues and also diffuse new knowledge in to handle nutrition issues in an ever-changing context. VHTs and local leaders also need to be equipped to do their job. For instance, they need Information, Education and Communication (IEC) materials to aid them during health and nutrition education and some form of motivation. It should be noted that the VHTs structure plays a more voluntary role and many times lack facilitation to operate beyond their available means. The working conditions of VHTs are largely representative of the broader challenges of the public health system in Uganda; from poor staff motivation to lack of basic tools. Following the training, VHTs and Leaders committed to be ardent ambassadors of the nutrition message in their communities.

References

Ministry of Health, Republic of Uganda, 2010. Village Health Teams Strategy and Operational Guidelines. Kampala, Uganda.
Republic of Uganda, 2003. The Uganda Food and Nutrition Policy. Kampala, Uganda.

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