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 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 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. Volunteers will help to maintain the VHTs' knowledge base by teaching them in quarterly meetings and some will conduct initial trainings for new VHTs as well. Participants will also see and participate in 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, and will help facilitate, 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 rural Mukono, just 12 miles from Kampala, but mired in poverty with dire health indices. Participants will teach VHTs first-hand, accompany them 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 13 miles outside 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. It started on original 7 hills and continued to expand. The long rainy season is from August to December and the short rainy season is 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 volunteers 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 volunteers have contributed to a "wiki" of local places to go in Kampala, and throughout the country. Each new volunteer 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. This spacious home is located just outside the marketplace of Kisoga Town. While one can find local produce and stores of all kinds in the thriving markets just down the street, participants can retreat to the tranquility of the Omni Med House a short walk away with views of the distant hills. There are accommodations for up to 8 volunteers with 24 hour Internet connectivity and a full-time staff of 4 individuals dedicated to improving local health. Omni Med has a vehicle for daily transport to program sites and offers some training sessions on site in a side garage.
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 Mukono, 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.
Our Omni Med driver, Robert Kiyimba, 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 Mukono.
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
Dr. Edward O’Neil Jr. - Medical Director (Based in the United States): Dr. Edward O’Neil Jr. 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.
Edward Mutimba Mwebe - CEO: In this role, Mr Mwebe oversees all aspects of Omni Med's on-the-ground operations in Uganda. Trained as a VHT himself, Mr Mwebe is a gifted teacher and an inspirational leader. He has overseen the training of 1200 VHTs, helped to initiate the protected water source program, Cookstove Program, and played a significant role in two local studies on the efficacy of the VHT program. He leads many of the quarterly meetings to keep the VHTs up to date, and coordinates home visits, and plans the strategic vision with Dr O'Neil and the staff.
Elizabeth Nalweyiso - CFO: Ms. Nalweyiso coordinates all financial aspects of Omni MEd's work. She makes sure the organization stays on budget, while also teaching VHTs in quarterly meetings, conducting home visits, and serving as the prime point of contact for all incoming volunteers. She is a VHT by training, and has served as CFO for three years.
(Mukadde) John Lubanga - Director of Protected Water Sources: Mukadde John has directed the Protected Water Source Program for the past 5 years, with 19 sites built to date. In this role, he arranges each new site and leads the local villagers in each new construction. Mr Lubanga also trains VHTs, conducts home visits, and works closely with all Omni Med volunteers.
Prossy Nambi - Home Caretaker: Ms. Nambi does all of the cooking and cleaning at the house. Like all of Omni Med's staff, Ms. Nambi extends warm Ugandan hospitality to all who visit with us. She cooks local Ugandan fare that is both nutritious and delicious! She meets all dietary requirements. She goes out of her way to make all volunteers feel comfortable and safe while staying with us.
What Alumni Say
"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