The Uganda Red Cross Society (URCS) in collaboration with the Ministry of Health (MOH) has initiated a comprehensive training program aimed at bolstering community-based surveillance (CBS) in Uganda.
The endeavor was made possible by a grant from the African Development Bank and the Government of Ireland, channeled through the World Health Organization (WHO). This essential training effort aims to strengthen CBS at both the national and sub-national levels, especially in areas affected by recent health emergencies The training program kicked off with a week-long session for 45 national CBS trainers at the Civil Service College in Jinja, Uganda.
The MOH’s Commissioner for Integrated Epidemiology, Surveillance, and Public Health Emergencies (IES&PHEs), Dr. Allan Muruta, officially opened the training. URCS Director Health and Social Services, Dr. Josephine Okwera highlighted the importance of expanding CBS to the village level, stating, “With lessons from the recent Ebola Viral Disease (EVD) response, we saw the need to expand the scope of CBS at the sub-national level up to the village level.”
The plan is to train National Trainers who will subsequently pass on this knowledge to district level trainers initially in Nakaseke, Mityana, Luwero, and Nakasongola as well as any other district once funds are realized. These district trainers will then, in turn, train Village Health Teams (VHTs) in their respective districts.
These selected districts are in close proximity to Mubende district, the epicenter of the previous Ebola outbreak, further underscoring the importance of strengthening CBS in these areas.
Dr. Muruta from the MOH emphasized the significance of CBS, stating, “While the country is secure at other levels of surveillance, CBS is a missing link. CBS only happens when there is an outbreak, not on a regular basis. We wish to receive information on a regular basis.” Dr. Muruta commended URCS for taking the lead in training frontline workers, noting that this initiative will significantly enhance CBS at the national and community levels improving community preparedness and timely response to disease outbreaks.
As part of the training program, teams were grouped to review and update CBS training materials and the VHT CBS handbook. This was to ensure that the information is upto date and aligns with the most recent disease trends. VHTs in the designated districts, after their training, will receive copies of the updated VHT CBS handbook to guide their regular surveillance activities within their communities.
The URCS’s commitment to preventing sexual exploitation, abuse, and harassment (PSEAH) was also highlighted during the training.
Didas Baluku, URCS’s Gender, Protection, and Inclusion Officer, emphasized URCS’s zero-tolerance policy for such misconduct and encouraged trainers to comply to the PSEAH guidelines, identify and report any such cases during and after project implementation.
The collaborative efforts of the Ministry of Health, WHO, and URCS are aimed at to enhancing CBS at all levels, with emphasis at the community level. This initiative aims to improve early disease detection and foster a community-wide shift toward regular CBS. Uganda recently overcame the deadly Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) outbreak, whose epicenter was Mubende district and subsequently spread to several nearby districts. URCS played a pivotal role in the country’s swift response to the outbreak by deploying over 3000 volunteers at the community level to engage in risk communication, community engagement, and various support activities.
This collective effort resulted in Uganda being declared Ebola-free on January 11, 2023, after just 69 days of the outbreak.
URCS continues to support the areas affected by the previous EVD outbreak in their recovery and preparedness for potential future health crises. The organization remains proud of its vital role in combating the deadly Ebola virus.