Not Slowing Down: Community Health Worker Harriet Mutaawe
At age 59, Harriet Mutaawe isn't slowing down.
For most of her life, Harriet has fought for her village to receive better health services. In 2008, Harriet earned her community health worker (CHW) certificate after completing training at Rubaga Hospital in Uganda. Shortly after, her neighbors in Nakitokolo village nominated her to become a CHW with Uganda’s Ministry of Health, with support from Living Goods, a member of the Frontline Health Workers Coalition. In her role, Harriet receives both financial and nonfinancial incentives from Living Goods.
For more than 11 years now, Harriet has opened her door in the middle of the night to treat sick children and adults alike. With a smartphone app, Smart Health, she can diagnose malaria, diarrheal disease, and pneumonia, and provide treatment. In serious cases, Harriet’s phone prompts her to refer the patient to a qualified health facility to seek care. Community members trust her with their health and the health of their families. And her scheduled health education sessions—focused on nutrition and water, sanitation, and hygiene—are well attended.
Recently, Farida knocked on Harriet’s door. Farida told Harriet she was pregnant and experiencing bleeding for more than three days. Farida knew to seek out Harriet because a neighbor—who had attended one of Harriet’s health education talks—told Farida bleeding was a danger sign for a high-risk pregnancy. Harriet contacted a hospital 30 kilometers away and accompanied Farida on the journey. At the hospital, Harriet comforted Farida as she went through tests and diagnoses. Harriett even followed up with Farida to ensure she continued taking her medicine. Because of Harriet’s quick thinking, Farida gave birth to her healthy son, Eric.
When Harriet comes across cases like Farida’s, she urges her patients to make the long journey. But she also advocates for health servised to be available closer to home.
For example, Harriet petitioned local leaders in her sub-county to build a health center in Nakitokolo village. She emphasized the large population that didn't have access to a health center close by. She wrote letters to the Chairman of the Local Council and advocated door-to-door to convince her neighbors to join her quest for a new health center. She asked for building material donations or funds that could be used for the health center. She convinced a local church to donate land for the clinic. She even gave her own kitchen cupboard to store health supplies for the clinic.
The community effort to get Nakitokolo Health Center II built was successful. The clinic now offers antenatal and postnatal services, immunization, health education, family planning, and other outpatient services.
For her community, Harriet goes beyond being a health worker. She’s an advocate and a champion who has successfully fought for the resources needed to better serve her community. And if Harriet ever does decide to slow down in her community health work, she’s prepared her community with the resources, knowledge, and facilities to support healthy lives at all ages.