In 2005, whilst working at Bufuula Primary School and living in the isolated rural community, the need for improved access to basic health care was immediately apparent to the first cohort of volunteers. A baseline survey was conducted which revealed 1 in 3 households had lost a family member to malaria yet no insecticide treated nets were accessible; oral rehydration solution was unavailable for children sick with diarrhoeal illnesses; access to HIV testing was non-existent and immunisation rates were low. We teamed with the major health care facility International Hospital Kampala (IHK) to establish the Ugandan Community Health Project, a grassroots health care initiative aimed at empowering Ugandans to facilitate improvements in health care in the most underserviced districts in the country.
We worked with the local Ministry of Health and liaised with local organisations (such as UNICEF and The Aids Support Organisation) who were already conducting health projects in the region to add synergistic health care gains and facilitate access to health care across the district.
Local Ugandans were selected by their own communities and educated over a 5 month training programme to become Community Health Workers. Using the infrastructure and in-country support of IHK, a full-time Ugandan health officer – Judith Nyesigire (pictured right) – was employed to conduct the training programmes and oversee the project on a day-to-day level. Judith was a dedicated woman whose tireless work saw the CHP grow from inception to reach more than 18 villages across the Jinja district; training 150 Ugandans as grassroots health care workers to reach a population of over 50,000 Ugandans. Over the following 3 years, thousands of insecticide treated nets were distributed with regular malaria education programmes, over 1,000 HIV tests were conducted in conjunction with TASO (and patients linked in to ongoing care); and condoms, sanitation interventions & education on nutrition was rolled out across these populations. Simultaneously, a project was established in the war-torn North of Uganda through one of IHK's rural clinics providing home-based antiretroviral therapy to HIV positive individuals, saving dozens of lives.
Tragically, in 2009, at the age of 25, Judith was killed by a ruptured ectopic pregnancy – a condition that is rarely fatal in a country like Australia where access to health care is quick and efficacious. Her vibrant dedication to the project was a great loss for Hands of Help. With the assistance of IHK, we later employed a second community health officer - Schola Nakagolo - to run the project. Sadly, early into her appointment, Schola also was tragically killed by Eclampsia in pregnancy whilst at home in her rural Ugandan village over the Christmas break.
The devastasting loss of two such incredible young women who were so committed to improving the health of their nations' people through grassroots health projects has deeply saddened the Hands of Help community and bought to light the challenges of running projects in nations where access to health care is so inadequate. To see two such committed and educated women lose their lives to treatable conditions has bought home the reality of how poor the infrastructure is in many developing nations across the world.
Hands of Help currently continues to run the Community Health Project with the assistance of Dr Charles Buyinza - a medical officer based in Kampala whom we supported to apply for, and successfully complete, a Masters of International Public Health in the UK in 2009. Dr Charles continues to oversee the CHP while simultaneously linking the aims of the project into his nutrition-focussed & agricultural-improvement aims of his locally-established NGO KACOBA.