International Women’s Day

8 March 2016

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Loving her neighbour

Today is International Women’s Day. A day where people across the globe come together to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women.

The Trust’s Trachoma Initiative is blessed to have many inspirational women leading the fight against  a painful, blinding disease, whether it be in the capacity of a surgeon, a nurse, a programme director or an administrator.

Here we are celebrating one woman in particular, who, far from the public eye, has dedicated 20 years of her life to improving the health of people living in her community.

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Hadija Gwazia

Many people would consider nine children enough responsibility for one lifetime, but not Hadija Gwazia. For the past 20 years the 56-year-old has combined caring for her family with an intensive role as a member of Uganda’s Volunteer Health Team (VHT).

Hadija has received training on HIV/AIDS, malaria, neglected diseases, family planning and patient counselling, and since May 2015 she has been part of the Trust’s Trachoma Initiative in Uganda.

“My role includes mobilising the community by going from home to home and informing people about different health conditions and the treatment that is available,” she explains. “I also meet people in bigger groups and attend community events to raise awareness of health programmes.”

Namtumba district, where Hadija lives and works, is one of 36 Ugandan districts where trachoma is prevalent, where it affects 20 – 34% of the population. The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust’s Trachoma Initiative is a five-year programme which aims to eliminate trachoma by 2019.

As a Village Health Team worker, Hadija must identify those showing signs of trachoma who should visit an eye health specialist , as without treatment, the disease can cause irreversible blindness.

Living in a remote community, transport is a constant challenge for Hadija and her fellow volunteers, as well as for those who need to visit eye health facilities.

“I have to cover long distances between villages and people’s homes, which is particularly challenging when it is raining. I sometimes have to use my own money to pay for transport. Patients also often cannot afford transport to the health facility where treatment is provided. The Trachoma Initiative provides transport for patients, but other programmes might not.”

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In order to convince people with trachoma that treatment is in their best interests, Hadija must gain their trust by befriending and counselling them, as well as introduce them to people who have previously received treatment and can demonstrate the benefits. Positive feedback and word of mouth, encouraged by Hadija, has increased the number of people seeking surgery.

For Hadija, empowering her neighbours to take control of their health is its own reward.

“I decided to become a VHT to help my people and my community to help themselves. I enjoy helping people gain knowledge about, for example, eye care and how they can have their sight saved. From the ongoing Trachoma Initiative I have had a lot of very positive feedback from patients who are extremely happy about the outcome of their surgery, who say to me ‘Now I can see’.”