Field Updates

Visiting Uganda by Nicole Alexander, Senior Manager, Communications

In June, I was so fortunate to see some of our projects in Uganda in person! This was my first time in Africa! Over the three-day trip, I saw our COVID-integration projects, two community clinics, and a maternity ward. Read about Day 1, Day 2, and Day 3!

Day 2: June 6th, 2023

Our work in the West Nile Region

On day two, I went to Arua in the West Nile Region. This area has 12 districts and a population of 3.57 million, 52% of which are female. The refugee population is about 790,000, with 82% women and young children, 15% youth, and 3% elderly, the elderly percentage being low because, unfortunately, the life expectancy is very short. The young percentage is theorized to be so low because girls between 12 and 16 are often married off and thus placed in the women and young children group.

There is a great need for consistent health care in the area. Many funding streams for care have time limits, so staff can’t plan for long-term care. So, when COVID vaccination campaigns were introduced, like in Ofua, this was an opportunity to integrate multiple health services. At the time of our visit, an average of 600 COVID-19 vaccines were administered a day. Many people missed their second doses during the Ebola outbreak, so the goal was to help get back on track with COVID vaccines after Ebola was handled and contained.

An aerial view of the entire vaccination station

An aerial view of the pop-up vaccination site. Photo Credit: Ambrose Watanda 

Covid Integration Station

I went to see one of our integrated COVID projects, which essentially means COVID vaccines are offered, but while we have people here, they can also get tested for common conditions like malaria or NCDs like diabetes, get treatments and vaccines for other diseases like MMR, mothers can get pre/post-natal care, and everyone can get family planning products. The idea is, since everything is so far away, let’s make the best use of a large group of people in one place and save them a long, costly trip to the clinic.

The weekend before I arrived, they helped over 1,500 people, extending their evening hours to 7 p.m. to accommodate people with agricultural jobs. The day we were there, there were a lot of women seeking post-natal care and malaria treatment for themselves or their children. Using the rapid test, staff can know after 15 minutes if it’s positive and have the medicines ready for disbursement. Margaret, the Village Health Team member, said that so far that day, 32 of the 132 tests given were positive. In this area, it’s common for 35 – 50% of the population to get malaria.

For the COVID-19 vaccines, vaccination campaigns typically last for 14 days. With help from religious and cultural leaders, heads of state, and other community pillars, staff rallied the community to get their COVID vaccinations and early childhood vaccines for babies, giving 831,000 doses during their last 14-day campaign and 1 million overall.

To help dispel myths and end fears, a Drama Team was implemented, and it’s exactly what you think it is. VHT members essentially put on a comedic play that creatively shares the messages about the importance of putting your care first, safe sanitation practices, and what NOT to do with masks and medicines.

An important thing that happens at this event is HIV testing. If people test positive, they can treat them right away, but if it’s negative, they are still informed on safe sexual practices. The testing is open to all, which is incredibly comforting for teenagers and young adults who may be afraid to seek care or ask questions.

With music and an emcee providing entertainment from start to finish, staff have definitely mastered how to draw people to the area. People show up for the fun, and some leave knowing their symptoms weren’t just something to sleep off.

A series of photos from the COVID Integration Station. Here, you can see staff administering COVID vaccines, conducting malaria and HIV testing, and reproductive health conversations. Photo Credit: Ambrose Watanda.

See the projects in action! Watch our footage from the COVID integration station. Videographer: Ambrose Watanda.