Serving Community as a Village Health Team Worker

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Marie can be considered a cornerstone in her community’s state of health. As a part of the Village Health Team (VHT) in the Coke Parish, Marie mobilizes men and women for routine immunizations and follow-ups. Essentially, she serves as the main connection between the community and medical care, closing this gap to healthcare services engendered by obstacles such as lack of transport, money, and awareness.

About a decade ago, many NGOs became involved in addressing health issues in the Coke Parish. Specifically, one organization saw Marie’s leadership potential from the respect she had already garnered from others. Training her to become a VHT, the NGO then paired her with the local hospital. Ever since the collaboration, Marie has been the focal point in dispensing medications, making referrals, and collecting and reporting data on people’s health status.

As HIV afflicts many community members—including herself—Marie’s role as a VHT is essential in monitoring the progression of the disease and in reminding others to pick up and take their medications timely. Marie, now 49, has been living with HIV for 18 years and is well-aware of the lived experience of this disease both physiologically and socio-culturally. She understands the stigma that too often prevents people from getting tested in the first place to the fear that silences those who are HIV positive from disclosing their status—usually men—which further undermines prevention efforts. (Her husband did not tell her that he was HIV positive until he became very ill, at which point ARV treatment was futile. He later died in the hospital). Moreover, she has seen firsthand the role of gender-based violence (GBV) in heightening HIV risks and in contributing to poor health outcomes for those who are already infected.

With these intersecting factors and personal experiences in mind, Marie is motivated to improve the health of her community. Since lack of transport to the hospital restricts access to medications and testing for viral loads is too expensive (5000 Ugandan Shillings), Marie, now paired with the hospital, visits the facility twice a month to pick up ARV medications and dispenses them. She also reports the names of those who need check-ups for testing of their viral loads. Within the village, she counsels members to help them come to terms with their HIV status.

Later, when GWED-G became involved in the Coke Parish, Marie’s enrollment in a few programs eased both her personal and work life in the community. Specifically, GWED-G’s Goat and Livelihood Program supplemented her with vegetable seeds, which resulted in a successful harvest of eggplants, wherein she was able to sell them to earn a total of 300,000 Ugandan Shillings. She used a fraction of this money to buy a goat, 200,000 Shillings to send her sons to school, and left 50,000 Shillings in village savings. In addition, GWED-G’s maternal health program provides mama kits—basins filled with scalpels, gloves, soap, surgical drapes, clamps, and blankets—to help ensure sanitary, healthy, HIV-free births.