International Rescue Committee Reopens Nine Health Centers in Northern Uganda
- The IRC has renovated and expanded nine health facilities in two districts of northern Uganda and handed them over to local health officials this week.
- Protracted conflict in northern Uganda decimated the healthcare system. The renovated centers will meet the health needs of tens of thousands of people returning home to their villages after years in displacement camps.
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The International Rescue Committee has renovated and expanded nine health facilities in two districts of northern Uganda and handed them over to local health officials this week.
The health centers, in Kitgum and Lamwo districts, were in a state of disrepair and offered limited services. Construction teams worked for seven months to rehabilitate the facilities and make them fully operational-repairing key infrastructure, including latrines, electricity and plumbing, and adding on patient waiting rooms and staff housing.
The district health offices will now take over their management and assume responsibility for their continued use and maintenance.
"The improved facilities will help meet the pressing health needs of tens of thousands of people returning home to their villages in Kitgum and Lamwo after years, and even decades of living in displacement camps," says Nicole Walden, who oversees IRC aid programs in Uganda.
Walden says the protracted conflict in northern Uganda decimated the healthcare system in these and many other districts.
"People often had better access to healthcare when living in the camps, where robust health services were established," Walden says. "Now that more than 80% of the camp population has returned to villages where health facilities were destroyed, healthcare is harder to come by. People often have to travel long distances to get medical attention."
A 2008 IRC study found that only 14% of returning populations had access to a fully functioning health center and on average, each health center was staffed at only 40% of capacity.
"In a region with high levels of maternal and infant mortality, 8.2% HIV prevalence and frequent outbreaks of cholera, hepatitis and tuberculosis, having operational health facilities nearby is essential," says Walden.
The newly renovated health centers, a project made possible with support from Stichting Vluchteling and the European Commission for Humanitarian Aid, will offer vastly improved services to returning populations, including maternal care, HIV counseling and testing, treatment of infectious diseases and care for survivors of sexual violence.
Walden says having such services closer to the communities where people are living will be key to preventing people from drifting back towards camps for health care. She says having staff housing facilities on the premises should also boost low staffing levels.
"We want to help provide communities in northern Uganda with the tools they need to recover," says Walden. "Helping district governments to rebuild a strong healthcare system is an important part of this effort."