OMNI MED: Community Health Workers and Global Health
About one in four Ugandans live in poverty - 37.7% of Uganda’s population lives on less than $1.25 a day. Life expectancy is only 59 years, while Uganda’s infant and mortality rate are among the highest in the world. Less than half of Uganda's population has access to health care, prompting many to turn to traditional healers rather than biomedicine. The leading causes of death are HIV (17% of all deaths), pneumonia (10.5%), malaria (6.2%), and diarrheal illness (5.8%). Although each of these illnesses are readily treatable, Uganda is simultaneously faced with a shortage of 1.5 million health workers. To address this shortage, Uganda created a "Village Health Team (VHT)" program in 2001 in which transnational NGOs, including Omni Med (CFHI's partner), train community health workers. These VHTs are invaluable health educators within rural villagers and make a real difference in the health of some of the world's poorest people. Be a part of this movement and see it in action!
Uganda’s health system is being built, in part, by non-profits working with the government. Key components of the Ugandan healthcare system are Community Health Workers, part of what global health experts call “Human Resources for Health.” Community Health Workers go by many names worldwide, including health promotors and village health workers, and are helping with the global shortage of doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers. In Uganda, these community health workers, called VHTs, are elected by their local villagers and serve three primary roles: to spread basic preventive health information, to refer sick patients to local or sometimes distant health centers and to track health information for the Ministry of Health. VHTs play a vital role in Uganda's health system and Omni Med has perfected the approach of garnering the support of international students and volunteers to train and maintain VHTs.
Omni Med trains 1 VHT for every 25-30 households locally through a week-long course and then spends considerable time maintaining them. Participants will accompany the VHTs on home visits to facilitate the transfer of the most powerful preventive health tool-knowledge. The most effective health measures are also the most basic and are applied in the home. Participants will also witness the full scope of Omni Med's local activities, including construction of protected water sources, construction of cookstoves and distribution of insecticide-treated nets (ITN). Omni Med has long believed in studying its impact, having conducted two clinical trials measuring program efficacy thus far. Participants will be exposed to ongoing research initiatives while there.
Clinical Rotations & Public Health Placements
This program focuses on Community Health Workers who are working within the community to do home visits, offer preventive and some primary health care, as well as coordinate larger public health initiatives. Participants will spend time in Makata Village, just 24 miles from Kampala, but mired in poverty with dire health indices. Participants will accompany VHTs on home visits to truly understand what it is to live in poverty and will partake in all of the above public health initiatives. Those with clinical backgrounds or training-at-all-levels have the opportunity to spend time at Mukono Health Center, observing in the clinics and wards.
The program is located in Makata Village, which is approximately 25 miles outside of Kampala, Uganda. Kampala is based in the Mukono district of Eastern Uganda. It is the capital and largest city in Uganda. It has a tropical rainforest climate and a long rainy season from August to December, and the short rainy season from February to June.
Things to Do
Kampala is home to incredible tombs, called Kasubi Tombs - the world’s largest thatch-roofed building. There are many opportunities for safaris and exploring forests. Opportunities to see incredible wildlife and create unforgettable experiences. Visit the Rubaga Cathedral, the oldest Roman Catholic diocese in Uganda. Many students take advantage of the program's proximity to Jinja, a popular tourist destination located at the source of the Nile River and some of the world's best white water rafting. For 8 years, Omni Med students have contributed to a "wiki" of local places to go in Kampala, and throughout the country. Each new student will have access to the Wiki, as well as the opportunity to contribute new findings.
Accommodations & Homestays
You will be staying in a house owned by Omni Med in Makata Village. The house has 24 hour Internet connectivity and a full-time staff dedicated to improving population health in the region. Omni Med has a vehicle for daily transport to program sites and offers some training sessions on site and in surrounding villages.
Eligibility: Who Can Apply?
This CFHI program is open to undergraduate, graduate and post-graduate students and trainees.
Participants are supplied with complete Omni Med Program Orientation materials, which include an orientation to the village, full preparation to train VHTs, health and safety issues and a broad-based understanding of global health inequality. The program is open to health science students and non-health science students, who want to learn more about global health and community health workers.
Applicants can be from any of the following categories:
- health professional (physician, nurse, PA, MPH professional)
- resident in training (any year)
- student (all years are accepted) enrolled in a qualified school of medicine, public health, nursing, or allied health
- undergraduate student with the maturity to handle the challenges of the program (juniors and seniors only, accepted on a case-by-case basis)
Language Required: English
Applicants may be from any country, but must have English language proficiency. Additionally, applicants can come any month of the year.
An Omni Med driver will pick up participants at Entebbe International Airport and drive them to a hotel in Kampala for an overnight stay (for night arrivals), or directly to the site in Makata Village.
All Omni Med participants are encouraged to purchase their VISAs for Uganda at the Arrivals Terminal upon entering Uganda.
- Guidance from CFHI staff in San Francisco before departure
- Program-specific materials with information on making travel arrangements, visa requirements, recommended immunizations, etc.
- Airport pick-up upon arrival and transportation to local lodging with local CFHI representative
- Welcome orientation covering safety, transportation, and other logistics
- Educational tour of Uganda
- CFHI Local Team: providing instruction, logistical support, and 24/7 emergency response
- Weekly meetings and lectures on local healthcare system and socio-economic determinants of health
- Placement and coordination of clinical/public health activities
- Accommodation and two meals a day
- Local transportation to and from clinical sites
- Local cell phone with start off credits and internet plan- students must refill at own cost
- International emergency medical and evacuation insurance
- Access to CFHI alumni-only LinkedIn group featuring news and career opportunities related to Global Health
- CFHI alumni newsletter highlighting events, resources, and ways to stay involved
Uniquely CFHI, 50% or more of student program fees go directly to the communities they will be visiting, benefiting the local economy at large and specifically underserved health systems. Read more.
Meet the Local Team
Edward O’Neil Jr. - Medical Director (Based in the United States): Dr. Edward O’Neil Jr is Omni Med's Medical Director. He earned his Medical degree from George Washington University and completed a residency and chief residency in internal medicine at Boston Medical Center. Dr. O’Neil completed the three-year Kellogg National Leadership Program, and, in 1998, founded the non-profit organization Omni-Med, (www.omnimed.org) which has run programs in Belize, Guyana, and Kenya. Since 2008, Omni Med has partnered with the Ugandan Ministry of Health and US Peace Corps to develop an innovative health service program in Uganda, training over 1200 community health workers and conducting a randomized prospective trial measuring program efficacy, one of the first in the service sector. Dr. O’Neil is the author of two highly acclaimed books published by the American Medical Association, Awakening Hippocrates: A Primer on Health, Poverty, and Global Service, and A Practical Guide to Global Health Service. Since April 2007, Dr. O’Neil has served as Chair of a Brookings Institution Taskforce on Health Service in Sub-Saharan Africa. He is a practicing emergency physician at Steward St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center in Boston, and an Associate Professor of Emergency Medicine at Tufts University School of Medicine.
Mwebe Edward is the president of Omni Med-Uganda. He is a local resident of Nsumba village, where his parents were born and raised. Trained as a Village Health Team (VHT) Member in May 2009, he has worked tirelessly to educate his neighbors about the critical health issues facing their communities. Now, as Omni Med’s Uganda president, Edward takes the hard work and positive attitude that he practiced at the local level to the larger context of the Sub-County, helping to organize VHT Trainings, coordinate follow-up meetings, and quarterly meetings, and provide invaluable input to the direction of the VHT Program.
Nalweyiso Elizabeth is our vice president. Prior to taking on this role, Elizabeth was, and remains, an outstanding teacher and translator as we have trained and maintained VHTs over the years. Elizabeth combines compassion with adroit attention to detail and general business savvy. She helps to maintain our master lists of VHTs, protected water sources, and cookstoves. She also serves as a wonderful Luganda teacher for our volunteers. Her background is in business and agriculture; for many years she has run a successful farm in the Bugoye parish.
Hannah Behringer graduated from Bates College in 2018, where she majored in Biology and was a member of the women's soccer team and Public Health Initiative. She has always had a keen interest in medicine and public health and began working in Uganda in June 2018 as the strategic coordinator and research coordinator for Omni Med. She plans to continue working in medicine and public health and eventually pursue a degree in either medicine or epidemiology.
Dr. Kenneth Kabali
Dr. Kabali serves as Omni Med's Medical Officer. Dr. Kabali is an MD, MPH trained at Makerere University in Kampala. He lives in Ntinda with his wife and children. Dr. Kabali overseas all of Omni Med's operations teaches & supervises all student volunteers, and helps the staff with strategic vision and execution. He has been a driving force behind our research efforts, and will co-author several research publications with Omni Med. He began working with Omni Med in November 2015.
Mugabi Henry is Omni Med's community coordinator. He is from Ssayi village in Ssayi parish and was elected to be the chairman of his village. Henry completed his Advanced level and served as head boy at Helm Senior Secondary School. He is a talented VHT and joined Omni Med staff in March 2018 and has been a wonderful addition to the team. He an effective coordinator and outstanding in all aspects of fieldwork from teaching to construction protected water sources. Henry is married and is expecting his first child soon.
Dr. James O'Donovan
Dr. O' Donovan is a physician and currently pursuing a Ph.D. at Oxford University in the UK. He signed on in 9/17 as Omni Med's Research Coordinator and will spend much of the next three years working with us in Uganda. James received the Velji Award for Emerging Leader in Global Health Innovation from CUGH and has published papers on e-medicine in BMJ Innovations and Lancet Global Health. He was a Kennedy Scholar at Harvard University in the Division of Global Health and Human Rights. He served as PI on the trial with Omni Med staff measuring the efficacy of Kindle Fire Tablets to train VHTs and will oversee all of Omni Med's various research projects over the next three years.
Rebecca is a resident of Mukono and a 2016 graduate of Makerere University where she earned a degree in Development Studies. After graduation, she worked with Mukono District NGO Forum as an administrative assistant for two years. She joined Omni Med in November 2018 as our finance officer. She is passionate about extending a hand to other people and is excited for the opportunity to be a part of Omni Med and help to improve the health of people in different communities of Mukono. She is also interested in reading, writing, traveling, and meeting new people and has a vision to see all people in Uganda living decent and desirable lives.
Namanda Allan Saul
Allan Saul graduated from Kyambogo University in 2016 with an honors degree in Development Studies. He also holds a certificate in Human Resource Management from Makerere Centre of Business and Management Sciences and completed an internship with Nakisunga sub-county in the Mukono District. He joined Omni Med in December 2018 and serves as our facilities manager and research/field assistant. Allan was previously working as a pump attendant at a petrol station in Mukono for over one year. Allan has enjoyed assisting James O'Donovan with his research and helping bring more health knowledge to the community. His work ethic and ability to fill a variety of roles have made him a wonderful addition to our staff.
Cissy is a VHT for Kiyoola village in Kiyoola parish. She works with Omni Med as a supervisor for VHTs across seven sub-counties that have been trained in taking blood pressure measurements. She also assists in our daily fieldwork by leading quarterly training, conducting home visits, and acting as a translator. Cissy is a single mother with four children.
Nalukomo Ruth and Tusubira Judith
Ruth and Judith are both VHTs that have taken on caretaker roles for everyone at Omni Med. They are both wonderful cooks and keep the compound clean. Ruth and Judith always give our volunteers a warm welcome and are considerate and accommodating to any special requests. They are a valuable part of our work and always make sure our staff and volunteers are comfortable.
What Alumni Say
"Personally I have been moved beyond measure by what I have seen here; the great challenges brought by extreme poverty as well as the incredible perseverance and ingenuity of the people who live here. I have also been heartened by the successes of the organizations (large and small) who work so hard to support those in need."
-- Sara Moffitt, Northwestern University
Read her full blog here.
"I remember walking back and forth between my hotel and Makerere University’s medical school, taking different meetings in a desperate attempt to obtain IRB approval before Christmas. I remember riding overcrowded taxi vans in the five-hour journey between Wakiso and my home in Mukono. I remember feeling isolated and powerless. What I learned in those moments is that obstacles do not equate to failure. In retrospect, I can say that those obstacles were part of a process that amounted to nothing resembling failure. I know that in my future work as a physician and advocate for improved health for the poor, I will encounter obstacles, some much larger than those I encountered in Uganda. I am becoming passionate about embracing obstacles as part of the process of achieving something great..."
-- Daniel Mays, GWU School of Medicine and Health Sciences
"I miss the people there and the relationships that we formed. I hope to continue remembering the impact of a relationship and time well spent even in the midst of the second year of medical school. I hope to remember that the rat-race and never-ending list of things to do are never as important as the people I interact with. I hope to carry this into my practice as a physician and I hope to be able to do that both in the US and abroad..."
-- Sara Porter, University of Mississippi School of Medicine