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Symposium on the contribution of Community Health Workers to the attainment of the SDGs, 21 – 23 February, Kampala, Uganda.

By Charles Ssemugabo
on January 24, 2017

Next month, Makerere University School of Public Health (MakSPH), Kampala, Uganda and Nottingham Trent University (NTU), UK in collaboration with the Ministry of Health (MOH), Uganda are organising a symposium on the contribution of Community Health Workers (CHWs) to the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The symposium will take place in Hotel Africana, Kampala, Uganda, from 21st till 23rd February. The aim is to share knowledge on the contribution of CHWs to national health systems, and identify and discuss how they might contribute towards the achievement of the health (and broader development) SDG agenda. In addition, the symposium will facilitate interdisciplinary research collaboration and learning, and propose a way forward on how to improve the work of CHWs within the health sector.

Community health workers

CHWs are human resources for health who are the first contact of the community to the health system, especially in rural and underserved settings. They are usually members of the communities where they work and are selected by the communities based on their ability to read and write (usually in their local language), but also their moral status and integrity. Over time, CHWs have shown their ability to improve the health of the communities they serve by delivering preventive and curative services especially in low and middle income countries. Different countries have different CHWs programmes depending on how they are called, duration of training, and the roles CHWs are involved in. In Uganda, CHWs are known as Village Health Teams (VHTs) and are largely engaged in home visits, health education, mobilizing the community for public health interventions such as immunization, disease surveillance, treatment of children under 5 years under the Integrated Community Case Management of Childhood Illnesses (iCCM), and referring patients to health facilities.



Which SDGs are related to the work of CHWs?

As you know, in September 2015 the UN General Assembly adopted the SDG agenda in a resolution outlining a new framework that established 17 universal goals, 169 targets and 230 indicators. The new framework replaced the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), substantially broadening the development agenda in the process. Although the international environment looks rather shaky, especially after the election of Trump in the US, the SDG agenda is expected to guide policy formulation among UN member states over the next 15 years (including health policies), and implementation has already started in many countries. Health is a core dimension of the SDGs; goal 3 aims at “ensuring healthy lives and promoting wellbeing for all at all ages”, with 13 targets. “Health-related indicators—ie, indicators directly pertaining to health services, health outcomes, and environmental, occupational, behavioural, or metabolic risks with well-established causal connections to health—are also present in ten of the other 16 goals.” (Lim et al 2016) In addition to the 13 health targets under goal 3, there are 15 other health-related targets within the goals. All in all, across these 11 goals, there are 28 health-related targets with a total of 47 health-related indicators. In many of these, CHWs are expected to play a role (and already do so in many cases in a number of countries).

Who and what to expect at the symposium?

The 3-day symposium in Kampala will bring together academics, researchers, practitioners, funders, policy makers, students, implementers, media and others from all over the world. Over 400 participants (from countries as diverse as the US, UK, Canada, Australia, France, Netherlands, Japan, India, Ethiopia, South Africa, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Ghana, Cameroon, Swaziland, Tanzania, Malawi, Sierra Leone, Kenya and Uganda) will attend the symposium. The likes of USAID, UNICEF, World Vision, Pathfinder International, Amref Health Africa, Healthy Child Uganda, the REACHOUT Consortium, Save the Children, Child Fund, Malaria Consortium, ministries, and research institutes are all expected to attend and showcase their work. Keynote speakers will include Dr. Maryse Kok from the Royal Tropical Institute Amsterdam, the Netherlands and the Reachout consortium; and Dr. Polly Walker from World Vision International. Other keynote speakers from MOH Uganda, Health Systems Global, academic and research institutions will also be presenting at the symposium. The symposium will feature plenary sessions, panel discussions, oral and poster presentations sessions, exhibitions and networking opportunities. The event is mainly sponsored by the UK Department of International Development (DFID) through the Tropical Health & Education Trust’s (THET) health partnership Scheme.

Expected benefits and outcomes of the symposium

The symposium will produce a report highlighting recommendations on how to improve the work of CHWs to help achieve the SDGs. Abstracts presented in the symposium will also be published in BMC Proceedings, a peer reviewed journal. We therefore invite you to attend this symposium and share your experiences, network with other professionals and learn about their work, get ideas for future research and projects, and contribute to the CHWs and SDGs agenda. See you in Kampala!


For more information about the symposium, visit our website:


About Charles Ssemugabo

Charles Ssemugabo is a Research Associate in the Department of Disease Control and Environmental Health, Makerere University School of Public Health; EV 2016; Consortium for Advanced Research Training in Africa (CARTA) fellow; and a UJMT Fogarty Global Health Fellow. Currently co-chair EV4GH
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