Every day, health service leaders face challenges like working with limited resources while delivering results, managing change, and keeping staff motivated. Decentralisation adds to these challenges, as many health workers have both clinical and managerial responsibilities.
However, little attention is paid to leadership and management skills during their health training.
In partnership with the districts, who select the candidates, the Makerere University School of Public Health is training health workers in three areas: planning and management of health services, improving management of logistics and improving management of labor and newborn care.
A six-month distance health services management certificate course, targeting district and health facility managers, caters for the first two thematic areas, the focus for this article. In the first phase, 30 health service delivery personnel were drawn from the three study districts (10 from each), and another 30 are attending the second phase of training. The results have been tremendous, with beneficiaries already registering significant improvements back at their work places.
Households and individual community members are being educated and encouraged to join or start financial social networks, like saving groups, which offer financial protection. In addition to the business funds, the networks are advised to have a separate fund to cater for maternal and newborn health needs. Members can access these funds to cater for emergency transport to and from the health facility for pregnant women, mothers and newborns. The fund is also meant to provide funds to cater for birth items. Saving groups are similarly encouraged to enter into partnership with transporters.
Deciding to seek care from a skilled health worker by a woman at the time of delivery is highly encouraged in order to improve health outcomes for both mother and baby. When a woman delivers under skilled care, it is easier to detect and attend to any emergences that arise.
Under the community mobilisation and sensitisation component of the study, around 1,691 community health workers (CHWs, also known as village health teams or VHTs), were trained across the three study districts of Kamuli, Pallisa and Kibuku. The training focused on early detection of emergencies, birth preparedness and care for mothers who just delivered and their newborns. During the visits, CHWs provide households with information needed to ensure mothers have a safe delivery and remain healthy with their babies. Two home visits happen during pregnancy and two after delivery.
Having knowledge of obstetric danger signs and embracing good birth preparedness practices could enhance maternal and newborn health outcomes. Through the use of communications and media advocacy, the intervention study is tackling social and cultural issues that affect maternal and newborn health negatively. We are using village-level dialogues (once every three months) and radio talk shows (monthly) as well as spot messages (daily).
During the dialogues, women and men shared sad memories of maternal and newborn illness and death, underlining the grim reality of the situation. They also discussed good and bad practices and made commitments to abandon negative practices and therefore improve maternal and newborn health. “I resolve to stop putting cow dung and other dangerous things on the cord of newborns. After today’s talk I realise why my baby’s cord took that long to heal. I urge fellow women to join a new me,” said Ms Nabirye at a dialogue in Kamuli to thunderous applause from fellow women. Monitoring data shows that, while only 17 per cent of sampled women who had just given birth treated cords with nothing but the appropriate saline water in mid-2013, that percentage had shot to 56% in mid-2014.