Funded by the European Union
Department of Biotechnology Government of India

VHTs in Uganda: Empowering women and saving lives in hard-to-reach settings

Village Health Teams Uganda

The members of village health teams are part of their communities. They are playing a very important role in the PRESCRIP-TEC project’s goal of reducing the incidence of cervical cancer in hard-to-reach or marginalised communities. Here a VHT member in Uganda speaks about his role and experiences as part of the project.

The role of village health teams in PRESCRIP-TEC

Every village in Uganda has a Village Health Teams (VHT) selected by the community to promote the health and well-being of the people. The VHTs were established by the Ministry of Health of Uganda to empower communities to take part in the decisions that affect their health, mobilise communities for health programs, and strengthen the delivery of health services at the household level.

PRESCRIP-TEC’s communication team had the pleasure of meeting and talking with Mr. Fred Rubiito to learn more about him and the work he is doing for PRESCRIP-TEC. Like many other VHTs who are involved in the project, Rubiito received training about the issues addressed by the project – what cervical cancer is, how it develops, the symptoms patients may present with, how it can be treated, and its possible prevention and elimination by following the WHO strategy. Currently, the VHT’s are bringing awareness about the prevention of cervical cancer to communities, helping to collect HPV-test samples, and conducting the AWACAN baseline survey for our research.

A man of good spirit, a health advocate

Rubiito is a husband and father of eight children. As a man of good spirit, he decided to become a health mediator because he saw the necessity in his community of guidance for maintaining health.

We joined Rubiito on his community mobilisation and sample collection day in Masaka sub-county in the Kakumiro district. He is actively helping to prevent cervical cancer in his community by informing and educating people about prevention. We spoke to him about his work in the community.

PRESCRIP-TEC: Could you please explain to us the work that you have been doing for PRESCRIP-TEC?

Rubiito: We are teaching the community, especially women who are between 25-49. We collect the self-test swab samples to discover whether they have problems so that they can minimise the risk of getting cervical cancer. If they test positive, we advise them to go to the health centre to get screened to avoid having problems in the future.

PRESCRIP-TEC: What do members of your community know about cervical cancer screening?

Rubiito: We have seen so many women suffering from cervical cancer because they have never seen or discovered that they had the HPV virus. We are trying to bring the knowledge to them and they are responding well and coming on board. They are not rejecting or refusing help.

PRESCRIP-TEC: How do you approach the community? Explain your counselling process.

Rubiito: My dear friend, ways of approaching people matter. You have to make them feel like a family member, as if you are a relative or a friend close to the family. You feel free, you go, you knock, they will come happily. You introduce yourself, you tell them what you are doing, what has brought us, and they respond well. You cannot go and knock as if you were going to fight. The first impression matters!

PRESCRIP-TEC: How do you approach patients or their family members who are sceptical or are afraid to do a self-test?

Rubiito Fred: In most cases, you will find that a woman is alone but, first, ask them for the head of the household. If the person is around, we ask to get everyone together and discuss what has brought us to that family. I tell them about what health problems could happen in the future. You can tell them about the possibility that someone could die – like the wife – if she does not go for a full screening. When they hear this, the family member will say: “Go on, take the sample, there is no problem. Hey! You have come to assist us, please carry on”. There is no problem actually, we are VHTs. We know how to convince them.

PRESCRIP-TEC: What do women think about the opportunity to take an HPV self-test?

Rubiito: It wouldn’t be a problem, but now, like today a woman asked me: ”What if I am on my period today?”. I said to her: “It is OK dear, I will come tomorrow”. Now, this can’t affect other things – we can talk about how to do the self-test. I explain that there is no need to touch the cervix, they just need to spread the swab in a circle around. Take it easy. They feel free. It is an advantage because the majority who go to the hospital feel ashamed. They are afraid to go to the hospital for medical checkups. The swab is OK. They appreciate it.”

PRESCRIP-TEC: How do you feel about working on this project? What personal lessons have you learnt?

Rubiito: This project has come to the right people. First of all, the project is reaching the actual community. I think it will minimise cervical cancer. Now with this system of screening, by going house to house, we can convince someone who is afraid of going to the hospital. We can teach her the signs and symptoms, and advise her to get a screening.

VHT’s – a significant part of the PRESCRIP-TEC project

Rubitto, like other VHTs, is helping his community to prevent cervical cancer. As part of the PRECRIP-TEC Project, he is helping us to collect data to be able to demonstrate the effectiveness of:

  • The HPV self-test
  • Visual Inspection of the cervix with Acetic acid (VIA) in mobile clinics or primary healthcare facilities
  • The use of an artificial intelligence decision support system (AI-DSS) in gynaecological examinations. Using artificial intelligence built into mobile devices offers high quality diagnosis in resource-poor settings as inter-observer variation in VIA is reduced

The results of the project will help us to show governments, researchers, and the international community how we can contribute to effective and innovative cervical cancer screening, including direct treatment, for women in resource-poor or hard-to-reach settings across the world.

For more information about PRESCRIP-TEC:

For more information about where you can get a cervical screening:

In short about PRESCRIP-TEC: