Uganda is known for its breathtaking ecotourism opportunities, lush mountains and the bustling capital city of Kampala. To help address preventable health challenges such as high infant mortality rate, diarrheal diseases, and malaria, Uganda has created a “Village Health Team (VHT)” program through which transnational NGOs, including Omni Med (CFHI’s partner in Mukono), train and support community health workers.
VHT’s serve three primary roles within rural villages: to spread preventive health information, to refer sick patients to health centers, and to track health information for the Ministry of Health. VHT’s play a vital role in Uganda’s health system, helping to offset a major shortage in nurses and doctors. Omni Med trains 1 VHT for every 25-30 households and works closely with each VHT following training. Omni Med maintains VHTs via a 5 component system involving local elections, health center work, home visits, quarterly training sessions, and annual large group gatherings.
Program participants are involved in aspects of VHT training and maintenance, as well as cookstoves, protected water sources, ITN distribution, mental health, hypertension screening, and various research projects. Omni Med regularly conducts clinical trials measuring program efficacy. Participants may be involved in trial design and execution when ongoing.
Become immersed in Ugandan culture by staying in apartments and interacting with the local community. During free time, students may organize a visit to Kampala’s incredible tombs or take an adventure on a wildlife safari.
Mukono, nestled in the heart of Uganda, offers a unique blend of rural tranquility and urban accessibility. The program is situated in Makata Village, a serene rural enclave that lies approximately 12 miles outside of the vibrant metropolis of Kampala. Mukono is a moderate-sized Ugandan city with a range of amenities, including hotels, shops, and easy public access to key destinations such as Kampala, Jinja, and other preferred locations.
Mukono District boasts not only its rural beauty but also its connection to the majestic Lake Victoria, one of Africa’s Great Lakes. Several islands, each with its unique charm, are part of Mukono District and are included within Omni Med’s catchment area. Lake Victoria, a tranquil expanse of water, offers opportunities for relaxation and exploration, making it an integral part of the Mukono experience.
Kampala, the capital, is a mere 25 miles east of Entebbe and shares its shores with Lake Victoria. Kampala is not only the political and economic hub of Uganda but also a lively and vibrant city. It offers a thriving culinary scene, bustling markets, and beckons exploration and enjoyment of Ugandan culture.
Mukono and its surrounding areas experience a tropical rainforest climate, with distinct rainy seasons. The long rainy season typically extends from August to December, providing lush landscapes and resplendent greenery. Meanwhile, the short rainy season occurs from February to June, offering travelers a chance to witness the natural beauty and fertility of the region.
Program participants will find their home away from home in a comfortable guesthouse screened by CFHI Local Coordinators in Mukono and following CFHI’s health and safety guidelines. The guesthouses are located in a safe compound owned by Omni Med near Makata Village. At the compound, there will be a local caretaker on site who will cook and provide cleaning. In some cases, CFHI scholars share the guesthouse and/or a room with fellow program participants.
Going beyond mere lodging, staying in local housing provides a unique opportunity to learn about the local culture. Accommodations include two meals per day. At the welcome orientation, participants will be instructed on culture and work etiquette to have the best experience in both the home and the health settings
Participants should arrive at the Entebbe International Airport in Kampala on the designated start date. An Omni Med driver will pick them up and drive them directly to the Omni Med Compound in Makata Village. Occasional visitors may decide to stay overnight in Kampala after arrival and come out to the compound later; Omni Med staff are flexible and will work with all visitors.
US citizens should apply for a Ugandan tourist visa in advance. More information will be provided by CFHI after acceptance into the program.
Uniquely, 60% or more of CFHI student program fees go directly to the communities they will be visiting, benefiting the local economy at large and specifically underserved health systems.
A typical day in a CFHI program is a blend of immersive learning, cultural exploration, and personal reflection. Program activities usually take place in the mornings for 4 to 6 hrs, generally Monday through Friday. The program activities and schedule are shared by the local team upon arrival. Weekends are free of program-planned activities.
Kampala is home to incredible tombs, called Kasubi Tombs – the world’s largest thatch-roofed building. There are many opportunities for safaris, seeing incredible wildlife and creating 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 nearly 15 years, Omni Med visitors have contributed to a “wiki” of local places to go in Kampala, and throughout the country. This wiki includes favorite restaurants, bars, hotels in Kampala as well as popular tourist destinations throughout the country. Each new student will have access to the Wiki, as well as the opportunity to contribute new findings. Many have arranged tours to view the Mountain Gorillas in Western Uganda, to go on safari, or even climb nearby Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. Omni Med staff is extremely knowledgeable and will be able to recommend various drivers and guides.
This program focuses on Community Health Workers, called Village Health Teams, or VHT’s, who are working within the community to offer preventive and some primary health care, make referrals to health centers and coordinate larger public health initiatives. Participants will live in Omni Med’s comfortable compound in Makata Village, just 12 miles from Kampala, but surrounded by the poverty and dire health indices that define life in much of SSA. Participants will accompany VHTs on home visits to truly understand common challenges faced by low-resource communities 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; some will also visit Mulago Hospital, the main teaching hospital of Makerere University in Kampala.
Each week has a schedule of activities, divided up into morning/afternoon. The range of activities include: home visits with VHTS, quarterly trainings (volunteers teach part of the curriculum), protected water site visits, cookstove construction, research activities either in design or implementation (when active), teaching health curricula in schools, visits to regional health centers, and facilitation of many clinical programs such as those in mental health, hypertension, malaria/ pneumonia/ diarrhea prevention and treatment, ITN distribution, cancer screening. Many visitors complete a practicum or specific university/medical school or public health school program designed by the visitor with input from Dr. O’Neil and Omni Med staff.
The local Medical Director oversees and arranges all clinical and public health-related activities and is also responsible for coordinating healthcare and emergency services for participants as needed. They coordinate a cadre of preceptors who mentor and supervise program participants at both clinical and public/community health sites.
Dr. O’Neil 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 to develop an innovative health service program in Uganda, training over 1350 community health workers and conducting several clinical trials 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. He previously 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 for 25 years, and is an Associate Professor of Emergency Medicine at Tufts University School of Medicine.
Mr. Mutimba 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.
Dr. Kenneth 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. He teaches and supervises all student volunteers, and helps the staff with strategic vision and execution. He has been a driving force behind research efforts and has co-authored several research publications with Omni Med. He began working with Omni Med in November 2015.
Rebecca Hamala 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 the 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, meeting new people and has a vision to see all people in Uganda living decent and desirable lives.
Allan joined Omni Med in 2018, starting out as facilities manager and helping to coordinate Dr. James O’Donovan’s research during his PhD work from Oxford while working with Omni Med in Uganda. Allan is a 2016 college graduate and rapidly assumed several roles, coordinating the Mental Health program, the Cancer Screening Program run during Covid, many Covid prevention efforts and the primary visitor liaison.
Cissy Luyiga began work as a VHT for Kiyoola village in Kiyoola parish. Omni Med staff noted her dedication and ability to work well with villagers and other VHTs. She was hired in 2017 and has become an essential staff member since. She has coordinated the hypertension screening program and works closely with the George Washington University School of Nursing in their HTN Program. 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 daily fieldwork by leading quarterly training, conducting home visits and acting as a translator. Cissy is a single mother with four children.
This CFHI program is ideal for participants who are 19 years of age or older, who have an interest in fields related to nutrition & food security, communicable diseases, pediatrics & child health, primary health care, and/or public health. You do not need to be a student to be eligible for this program; mid-career professionals, GAP year learners, and others are also welcome. This program will provide an in-depth overview of nutrition & food security, communicable diseases, pediatrics & child health, primary health care, and/or public health in Uganda through programs teaching community health workers, performing home visits, and working in a broad swath of clinical and public health oriented programs including mental health, hypertension, water/ sanitation, and research, all done with Village Health Teams in Mukono. To confirm your eligibility, please read CFHI’s general eligibility requirements.
“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.”
“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…”
“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…”
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