Joyce Naikoba queues up at Kasambya grounds in Kamuli district during a regional health camp. She patiently waits for an opportunity to see a health practitioner.

Barely 20 years old and with a child to take care of, she would rather go to work than sit and wait in the queue but she is not sure of when she will get another opportunity to see a doctor.

For a few hours now, her baby has been restless and has not stopped crying. All effort to sooth and nurse him have been futile. I walk to her to offer a helping hand and on quick inspection, I discover the baby has a burn on the leg and the wound has become septic.

He is also running a high temperature. On further discussion, I discover that it took her long to get treatment because she didn’t have money to seek healthcare.

“I went to the Mbulamuti health center II and was told to pay Shs 2,000 for the medicine. I did not have any money; so, I decided to return home and use local herbs but later I realized the wound was getting worse. So, when I heard of this free camp, I brought him,” she narrates.

After doctors attend to her, Naikoba is later referred to Kamuli general hospital for further attention. This is not an isolated case. Access to information and healthcare is still a major challenge across the country. Most deaths in rural Uganda are actually attributed to treatable and preventable causes.

However, people living in rural communities have no way of getting or even affording professional help and consultations.

Damning stats

According to the World Health Organization, the physician-to-patient ratio should be 1:1000. However, a 2013 survey in Uganda found that that ratio is estimated to be at 1:25,725 and nurse-to-patient ratio at 1:11,000 in 2013. These ratios have not significantly changed over the past five years.

These overwhelming figures have created a need for corporate organizations to come up with health interventions under their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) arm. 

Fresh hope

Airtel Uganda, for example, has partnered with the Hinds Feet Project Uganda and has since 2014 reached different rural pockets of Uganda giving free medical health services and teaching the residents about making informed health decisions.

Dr Victor Afayo, an obstetrician at Arua referral hospital and the physician resident at the Airtel medical camps, notes that a specific community is chosen for an outreach because it is among the needy and underserved areas when it comes to health service access and delivery.

Meanwhile,  Charity Rwabutomize Bukenya, Airtel Uganda’s CSR manager, says: “We have a 12-hour camp and week-long village drives to ensure that the less fortunate are given free medical help in areas concerning malaria, HIV/Aids, Hepatitis B, Syphilis, cervical cancer screening and sickle Cell trait testing, among others. We also offer free eye, dental checkups and treatment, antenatal checkups and advice, primary health information, conduct a blood donation and free safe male circumcision. Our approach is a one-stop service delivery that will enable patients get an all-round view of their health and access as many services as possible for free.”

“With a majority of families in Uganda surviving on less than one dollar a day, these outreach camps help families to save money that they would have spent on medical care at their local health centers. Moreover, most of the health centers are not even equipped to provide the services offered at the camps,” Bukenya adds.

The Uganda National household survey 2016/17 done by The Uganda Bureau of Statistics (Ubos) estimates an average of 4.7 people per rural Ugandan household. This means that the 12,765 families that have been registered at the Airtel health camps since 2014 represent more than 59,995 patients who have benefitted from the arrangement.

The health camps have greatly influenced the health seeking behaviors of families who are now more aware of the symptoms and prevention of illnesses as well as the services that the government has made available to them at the local health centers II, III, IV and district hospital.

“Health information not only has to be accurate and proper but it also has to be culturally appropriate to help disparage customary beliefs or myths regarding health practices,” says Sandra Muhanuka, the founder of  Hinds Feet Project.

She continues to say that being culturally competent is an important aspect needed to improve health literacy. This is the reason as to why the health educators are recruited from within the district by the District Health Officer because they are culturally competent to disseminate the information that the community can understand and identify with.

Information is at the heart of both health promotion and illness management and there is reliable information regarding the activities or practices that increase the odds of staying healthy.

There are also well-established methods for detecting many diseases in the early stages thus limiting their harmful effects. Through community outreach programmes such as the Airtel Health camps, communities can be provided with accurate comprehensive information that enables individuals to make informed decisions about their health.

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