Years after rebel insurgency in northern Uganda civil society organizations moved in to rebuild the region by improving service delivery and ensuring improved accessibility of resources and service delivery in different sectors, however the use of technology for people empowerment and engagement was hardly seen in the region.
The region was blessed to receive SPIDER health project in Lira and Oyam which widely uses ICT for people empowerment. The toll free call center was installed in May 2012 which has greatly improved health service delivery in northern Uganda through community empowerment and , engagement in monitoring health service delivery at their respective health centers; men and women have used the call center/technology by calling in to report challenges of late coming, absenteeism, drug theft, poor hygiene and poor work performance.
Call conversations are always so touching, to some people the issues or challenges being reported by community health users are mythical but in reality the hard conditions are deeply felt while this calls are being received; it’s only through empathy that one can truly understand what happens at the health centers.
A situation where a midwife worked for 24 hours without resting because her colleague was absent, the poor midwife could only be seen dozing off while she explains to Betty (TI Uganda staff) during health center verification visit, meetings are always convened at the health centers together health center in-charges and other health workers to locally discuss and come up with solutions. During one of the meetings health workers justified their reasons for being absent and reporting late for duty being caused by inadequate accommodation because some of them do not reside within the health center and their request to Transparency International Uganda was that the organization does help present this problem to district officials; one amazing thing about this is that the intervention has provided both the health workers and community health users to freely share their side of the story unlike in the past where only a few community health users and politicians would share their grievances through publicized radio programmes and political campaigns; technology has now enabled the different stakeholders to equally share both health challenges and providing lasting solutions.
As a result of advocacy meeting with district health officers, some of the health staff houses which had taken quite a long time for construction to be completed were later completed and staffs began to stay within the health center. It is pleasing, that by engaging the district officials in solving these challenges, the project has attained positive results for example; there is a great improvement in staff arrival time because now they reside within health center and have pledged this role-play in service delivery.
Here comes another interesting bit of ICT for people empowerment; both social media (www.faceboo.com/StopAbsenteeism ) and local FM radio programmes have been used to inform, educate and engage both local communities and global internet users in sharing both knowledge and ideas towards improving health service delivery.
One interesting thing about community technological adaptability is the fixation in people’s mind that FM radio stations serves for people entertainment not empowerment which made it very hard in the beginning to win listenership, through daily advertisement of radio programmes and toll free line, the community became more interested to learn and share with presenters the health challenges at their respective health centers; community participation improved so much during and after subsequent radio programmes where many were calling in to share their views, comments and suggestions; it was an appropriate time for the community members to interact through ICT, “we love this program, its educating us and may you continue educating the community because many do not know their health rights” Albina said. “I have listened in most radio programs and it’s amazing how your program is approaching challenges at the health centers, could you please extend the same program to our district as well because they are similar challenges we are facing in Dokolo, I feel empowered and ready to be involved ” said the caller; in response “We would love to even scale up the intervention to every part of the northern Uganda but we are limited by resources, with more funding realized Transparency International Uganda will surely consider your district” Simon said.
Project sustainability has always been a point of concern for every humanitarian worker, TI Uganda tactically through radio programmes organized for development pact signing (an agreement/framework which enables the local communities able to know and have commitment of the leaders, stakeholders and duty bearers by pledging their commitment towards improving healthcare service delivery) to realize continued participation and involvement of different stakeholders in carrying out project intervention beyond project life time; development pact signing, this was one of the most marvelous activities that the community members have ever enjoyed and participated willingly.
It was a moment of pledging commitments by the district officials, local leaders, health workers, voluntary accountability committees, HIV/AIDS focal person, sub county chiefs, village health teams and the general community towards improving health service delivery, creating good working relationship between the health workers and the communities by writing and signing down on paper their commitment; this was a very interesting moment for community members, the activity involved anti-corruption drama which became an eye opener to the communities being so entertaining and educative, it covered late arrival of health workers, staff absenteeism, drug theft, mistreatment of patients and the benefit of development pact signing, this time the community members, the local leaders and the health workers were all free to interact on concerning issues taking place at their community health centers. “Thank you so much Transparency you have opened our eyes, we are now united and empowered”, said community members.
Technology in its self alone cannot impact on community that’s why Transparency International Uganda values people empowerment and engagement in rightfully using technology for sustainable development, in our different capacities we can use ICT to greatly impact on people’s lives in developing region; we therefore call upon every story reader to promote and support the different projects in developing countries in making the world a better place.
Author: Simon Peter Ogwang
Project Coordinator at Transparency International Uganda