Senior management in the Uganda Ministry of Health’s (MOH’s) Vector Control Division were facing a pressing need in Uganda as they prepared to scale-up, mass drug administration (MDA) to control and prevent five neglected tropical diseases (NTDs)—onchocerciasis, lymphatic filariasis (elephantiasis), trachoma (blinding eye infection), schistosomiasis (bilharzia or snail fever), and soil-transmitted helminthiasis (intestinal worms)— a critical shortfall in qualified staff to supervise activities.
These supervisory responsibilities involve providing technical and operational assistance at the level of implementation during an MDA - including training district level MOH staff and community medicines distributors (CMDs) on how to administer drugs safely, how to identify and report severe adverse events (SAEs) to medicines, as well as how to properly verify reported data at the ground level. Other tasks include assisting districts in launching social mobilization campaigns to help prepare for the MDAs as well as advocating at the district levels for support from public leaders.
With only 15 supervisory personnel and an anticipated scale-up of an additional 80 districts, officials in the Vector Control Division began working with RTI staff in early 2012 under the ENVISION project to explore ways in which to expand the pool of NTD experts in Uganda in order to meet this need.
The Vector Control Division identified MOH staff at the central and district levels with experience in NTD and infectious disease programs and an interest in joining the fight to prevent and eliminate these neglected diseases. The Vector Control Division then organized a training course for central-level supervisors led by the 15 seasoned NTD experts. During this session, 45 health professionals took their first steps in becoming the next generation of NTD specialists in Uganda.
David Oguttu, a parisitologist for the MOH’s Vector Control division, has served as an NTD supervisor for over two years. David helped deliver training to the new cadre of NTD specialists, “This is a really wonderful advancement in controlling and eliminating NTDs. There has been a severe shortage of experts at the MOH. We are very happy to provide this much-needed training to new staff.”
Now equipped with 60 NTD experts, the MOH will be able to provide improved support to districts implementing MDA. The new supervisors will help oversee NTD activities in the 80 participating districts in Uganda and train district and parish level supervisors, NTD focal persons, and CMDs.
Betty Nabatte, a vector control officer and newly trained supervisor for NTD activities, has worked at the MOH for six years. “I am really grateful for the opportunity to be trained and very proud that I have been entrusted to do this work for the people of Uganda,” Betty stated. “Uganda is moving in the right direction in advancing knowledge of and power over NTDs through education and training. We are empowering the districts to tackle these diseases themselves.”
RTI has been supporting NTD activities in Uganda with the support of USAID since 2007 – first under the NTD Control Program and now under the ENVISION project.