May 29, 2020

UCalgary’s global health partners help respond to COVID-19 pandemic beyond our borders

Canadians and Ugandans work together to come up with prevention strategies

The University of Calgary’s global health partnerships are improving lives far beyond our national borders during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In rural Uganda, for example, past experiences with Ebola and other infectious disease outbreaks have instilled readiness and understanding of the importance of early action and a co-ordinated response.

“In times of need we all turn inward; however, it is even more crucial that we support our partners that need support. A true global response (to COVID-19) is necessary, and the University of Calgary is proud to have a role in that,” says Dr. Nalini Singhal, MD, professor in the Department of Paediatrics at the Cumming School of Medicine (CSM).  

The CSM's Indigenous, Local & Global Health Office's long-time partner university in Uganda, Mbarara University of Science and Technology, works with the CSM to strengthen maternal, newborn and child health through Healthy Child Uganda (HCU). In mid-March, HCU attended district meetings with key health-care partners to discuss needs and a COVID-19 support strategy.

Cleaning solution, personal protective equipment (PPE), hand washing facilities, fuel, hand sanitizer and bars of soap were among the most-needed items. HCU was able to organize support for these items thanks to generous private donations provided to the UCalgary and the Canadian Paediatric Society Healthy Generations Foundation.

hand washing station delivery

Healthy Child Uganda

The donations also supported COVID-19 training workshops for frontline health-care workers and the early provision of PPE, enhancing the safety of working conditions while waiting for further supplies from Uganda’s Ministry of Health.

The workshop for frontline health workers helps orient them to the facts of the virus,” says Mutatina Robens, innovations co-ordinator for HCU. Health workers equipped with COVID-19 knowledge and PPE are better able to address the pandemic and serve their communities.

In addition to supply and training support, the HCU team and Canadian contributions have helped a network of over 6,000 volunteer community health workers share COVID-19 prevention messages. The messages have been emphasized through printed posters, SMS messages, discussions and messaging shared through local talk radio.

truck with supplies

Healthy Child Uganda

“As a result, many households have put in place different prevention measures like having hand-washing facilities on their compounds, avoiding unnecessary movements and public gatherings,” says Teddy Kyomuhangi, HCU manager.

According to Dr. Edward Mwesigye, district health officer for Bushenyi, “Awareness on the radio has redirected reporting cases to other points of help such as health centres thus giving me time to attend to other critical health issues.”

Although the COVID-19 pandemic is far from over, Uganda’s early and aggressive COVID-19 response appears to have helped slow the spread of infections. As of May 25, 2020 the total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Uganda is 212. The HCU team credits the early action taken by district health officials and rapid partner support for allowing communities to come together and manage the pandemic in an effort to save lives.

Healthy Child Uganda (HCU) is a partnership between Mbarara University of Science and Technology (MUST), Canadian universities and organizations, and the Canadian Paediatric Society. HCU works with national and district health planners, leaders, and communities themselves to develop, implement, and evaluate initiatives that strengthen health systems and improve health for mothers, babies, and children. https://www.healthychilduganda.org

Nalini Singhal is a professor of paediatrics at the University of Calgary’s Cumming School of Medicine and a child health and wellness researcher for Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute. She is the co-developer of Healthy Child Uganda and the co-editor of Helping Babies Survive programs. Her work in maternal and child health has taken her around the world.

The Cumming School of Medicine's Indigenous, Local & Global Health Office (formerly SPaCE) works to create the future of health and social equity at home and abroad. The office is committed to collaborating with communities to promote engagement, advance equity, inform curriculum and research and co-design initiatives for impact. Opportunities for students, staff and faculty to get involved are found at cumming.ucalgary.ca/community  Connect with the Indigenous, Local & Global Health Office on Twitter