“I’ve always wanted to be a doctor. For as long as I can remember, that’s what I dreamed to do…just like my father. He was a doctor at Mulago Hospital.” Sadly, Harriet Nanyanzi’s father passed away when she was a young child, leaving her an orphan, and taking with him any hope Harriet would have ever had of obtaining a higher education.
But, today, moving around her neighbourhood as a Living Goods-supported community health worker, it seems her dream has come true in a roundabout way. Everyone she comes across addresses her, respectfully, with the Luganda word for doctor, ‘Musawo.’ One woman needs syrup for her cough, another needs diarrhea treatment for her child, and several women present their newborn babies to her, thanking Harriet for the services she provided during and after their pregnancies.
“She took care of everything,” says Nahura Sharon, who delivered a healthy baby girl just one month ago. “It was like having a hospital at home. Only, it was better than the hospital because of the personal service ‘Musawo’ provides.” As part of a LivingGoods SMS initiative, Sharon would receive messages advising her services to support her during pregnancy and prepare her for delivery, followed up by antenatal guidance on breastfeeding, nutrition, and hygiene. In addition, Harriet visited her regularly, keeping a close eye on Sharon’s progress. “In my first pregnancy, this kind of access to a doctor was impossible,” Sharon explains. “You would have to travel far, and the assistance you get at the hospital is not personal. It was very different this time; ‘Musawo’ taught me everything and is always available. I felt so knowledgeable and secure this time.”
In rural Uganda, access to hospital services is a huge barrier when it comes to health seeking behavior. Sarah Namulindwa has to travel seven miles to her nearest government hospital. “The transport is expensive,” explains Sarah. “I have to pay 3,000UGX every way, and the hospital is always very busy; sometimes you even go and leave without being seen because there are too many people waiting. But ‘Musawo,’ she is right here…she is such a great help to us. When my son had diarrhea, she just came and solved the problem right here in my home. Whenever I have any health issues with my children, I discuss it with ‘Musawo’.”
“This is what I have always wanted,” Harriet says. “To serve my community and help them with their health. What I always wanted is now here.” On top of this personal fulfilment comes the added benefit of enabling Harriet to provide her children with what she herself never had: A proper education.