Experts Call for Involvement of VHTs in Screening for Cardiovascular Diseases

According to researchers at Makerere University, they have established that the VHTs can help with the challenge that many people present late to care greatly affecting treatment outcomes.
Dr. Gerald Mutungi, Commissioner NCDs that include Cardiovascular diseases at the Ministry of Health

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Health experts want Village Health Teams (VHTs) to educate and screen people for cardiovascular diseases. 

According to researchers at Makerere University, they have established that the VHTs can help with the challenge that many people present late to care greatly affecting treatment outcomes.

In a study spanning over eight years in which they trained VHTs to deliver key prevention and control information and then weighed later to see if their interventions yielded, Dr. Geoffrey Musinguzi a researcher based at the School of Public Health says they registered a reduction in key risk factors including smoking, physical inactivity, and poor nutrition among others.

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Other risk factors where they saw significant changes were with salt intake, weight loss, and consulting of traditional healers for their hypertension and other Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs).

The study was conducted in Buikwe and Mukono districts. While they had done an earlier study in 2012 where they found a high prevalence of diseases of the heart and the blood vessels in these areas, they went back in 2017 to conduct a baseline study from which they based to design interventions that they thought would help for especially prevention and early detection.

Musinguzi says that they came up with a community package involving among others teaching VHTs and developing tools such as a talking T-shirt which teams would use to deliver prevention messages.

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Currently, according to the Ministry of Health categorization, VHTs are supposed to mainly help with basic health issues like mosquito net distribution, giving information on contraceptive use, and nutrition.

Now, with the study, Musinguzi says general knowledge about Cardiovascular diseases in the community increased from 32% at baseline to 70% and when they evaluated the training feedback, they found only 1% of the families visited rejected services of VHTs.

The teams were taught to detect and refer patients who need medical interventions to health facilities.

Even at the health facility level, although there have been warning of the rising crisis of NCDs, with the burden estimated at over 20% prevalence, Musinguzi says that there has been a missed opportunity at especially at the outpatient department whereby people are not screened for cardiovascular diseases risk factors. 

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Dr. Gerald Mutungi, the Commissioner NCDs in the Ministry of Health says that the data that community health workers can screen and do home visits comes at a good time when they are moving to adopt evidence-based programming for interventions into NCDs.  

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He says generally, the Ministry is currently evaluating how they can better utilize VHTs considering their role during the COVID-19 pandemic, although he notes they were not yet sure of what role they can play in the NCDs crisis. 

Meanwhile, as the ministry considers this VHTs proposal, the Fatumah Ndisaba the Mukono Resident District Commissioner (RDC) says that issues of their remuneration should be brainstormed since currently they don’t get a salary but depend on projects and donors for small unreliable facilitation.

It should be noted that since 2014, Uganda hasn’t done a comprehensive survey to determine the exact nationwide prevalence of NCDs but Mutungi says they use a proxy of hypertension which is estimated at 24.3%.

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