by Dr. Jenn Brenner, Teddy Kyomuhangi and Ayah Muftah, Healthy Child Uganda

An HCU Overview

Healthy Child Uganda (HCU) is a partnership between Mbarara University of Science and Technology, Canadian universities, and the Canadian Paediatric Society. HCU works together with national and district health planners, health providers, community leaders, and community members to develop, implement, and evaluate initiatives that strengthen health systems and improve health for mothers, babies, and children.

HCU aims to improve maternal and child health in districts in rural southwest Uganda through strengthening health leadership and health systems, supporting training and infrastructure at health facilities, and through engaging communities, including through support of a large (5000+ member network) of volunteer Community Health Workers (CHWs).During the time spent in the different locations in Uganda, the team has been able to assist and help many in finding housing, providing resources and materials, and helping children with special needs.

What is the Special Child Program?

In addition to its main activities, HCU oversees a small ‘Special Child Program’ which provides modest financial and social support to children who are identified by community health workers to have special needs which cannot immediately be managed by their families and communities. The program arose over a decade ago, when it was realized that HCU field staff were pooling their own monies to help community health workers help these children when overwhelming challenges arose. Today, small donations are accepted from Uganda and from Canada to support the ‘Special Child Program’.

How Does the Program Work?

When a problem is identified that cannot be addressed by the CHW, family and community leaders alone, they will meet together with HCU team representatives and prepare an action plan for the child. Special Child Program funds may support initial material needs such as medical treatment (i.e. medicines, supplies, transport), rehabilitation, and nutritional supplementation. Based at Mbarara University (co-located with the Regional Referral Hospital), the HCU team often assists in coordinating medical consultation and seeking advice for family and community caregivers. The community, family and CHW are expected to contribute to ensuring social supports, accompanying children for treatment, and housing any children who are abandoned or neglected. The CHW makes regular visits for follow up and mobilizes as an advocate for the child within the community. Over the past ten years, the program has been a tremendous success, helping hundreds of special needs children. The program has exemplified how community really can come together to change the life of a child.

Samari, a Special Child

Samari, a 15-year-old girl, is one of many success stories. Samari is described as “an ever-smiling girl”. Growing up and beginning at a young age, Samari had some physical challenges; she found it difficult to sit, stand, and walk. Following the death of Samari’s mother when Samari was just five years old, her grandmother took care of her and tried to find a treatment for her motor development problems.

Samari was identified to the HCU team by the community health worker from her village. The HCU team helped to connect her to a physiotherapist and a wheelchair to support her mobility. The Special Child fund also supported transport and meals for Samari and her grandmother to undergo specialized care and therapy in the city. The wheelchair for Samari was the beginning of her healing process. Getting out of her home and accessing further physiotherapy led to physical breakthrough. Soon, she began to straighten up and even start to walk! Now mobile, Samari was able to go to school and learn with the rest of the kids. She is now on course to complete school and aspires to be a teacher for all children, including those with special needs.

The Special Child Program has many success stories of special needs children who have been lifted from a difficult life situation as Samari was. Their needs have included severe malnutrition, club foot, hydrocephalus, spina bifida, hearing and visual impairment, child maltreatment, and abandonment. Each story is unique, however, what has been common is the willingness of communities, community health workers and families and extended families to support these children through difficult times.

The HCU team is committed to improve health for mothers, babies, and children in Uganda. HCU projects and programs have made important contributions towards saving lives in Mbarara, Bushenyi, Rubirizi, and Ntungamo districts in Southwest Uganda. HCU highlights include promoting healthy communities, strengthening health services, developing pilot and scale-up model programs, and measuring results.

However, for many on the HCU team, it is the ‘Special Children’ who are recalled most fondly and provide inspiration for daily work in public health and in aspects of health system strengthening that are not always easily tangible. HCU is grateful for the Canadian donors who have made the Special Child Program possible.

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Dr. Jenn Brenner, Healthy Child Uganda, Co-Director
Teddy Kyomuhangi, Healthy Child Uganda, Programme Manager 
Ayah Muftah, Student Intern