Community Outreach with Village Health Team (VHT) Members

DSC00881In the US we are bombarded with billboards, radio ads, TV commercials, and internet pop ups left and right, bringing information to our finger tips instantly. Friday I had the chance to meet with 46 people, who work as a part of the Ugandan Village Health Team (VHT), to talk about breast cancer, breast exams, and the ITW breast mass project. The VHT is a group of people responsible for learning, and then disseminating health information amongst their fellow villagers. They gather for monthly meetings, with their coordinator, who is responsible for helping provide the initial information, be it about malaria, HIV, or another public health concern. There is no Webmd or ads for the latest medications, in rural Uganda, the VHT plays a large part in health education through word of mouth, community discussions, and the occasional paper handout. The meeting began with a shift in plans as the power was out, rendering the PowerPoint Magdelena, Chris, and I prepared to simply an idea in the back of my mind. I think it was for the best in a way – with the help of Sister Angela’s insight and unique capacity to connect with the group as a local provider, along with a couple handouts, we had the chance to work with the group using some of the methods and resources they will employ to bring information to the villagers. I was touched to find a group of people so eager to learn, and to bring that information to their communities. DSC00894

Each person practiced doing the self-breast exams, and actively engaged with Sister Angela’s explanations of what she, Magdelena, and I were sharing. Women and men spoke up to ask a variety of questions: some conveyed their fears about how cancer might be acquired, and others shared inspiring stories of how they are survivors themselves. After an hour working with Sister Angela and the large group, we had the chance to go around and talk with groups of 3-4 people at a time. This was a great opportunity to answer more questions, and to see just how excited people are to learn about breast cancer, about the ultrasound ITW is providing to help aid in diagnosis of breast masses, as well as the algorithm that will help women get connected for each step of the process in education, diagnosis, and treatment. It was clear that each of the 46 people takes great pride in his or her responsibilities, and is full of enthusiasm to share this information with the members of their communities.

The ITW mission is centered upon the theme of “teaching a man to fish”, and I felt that this community outreach could not have been more in line with that mission. Long after we leave here next week, the community will be learning together, having discussions, and reaching out to the resources in place in Nawanyago, Kamuli, and Kampala. I am so excited to hear feedback from the VHT following their outreach, and to see how the education program and community action will continue to grow, hopefully enabling women to receive necessary care.