In addition to health concerns caused by the living conditions of the settlements, poverty and lack of resources also contribute to serious health challenges that disproportionately affect women. For instance, pregnant women who are far from hospitals and clinics and who do not have money for transportation give birth at home, often without the assistance of a skilled attendant. Many women die during childbirth due from ectopic pregnancies or hemorrhaging because they were unable to access a medical facility. After giving birth, many women lack basic information on breast feeding and nutrition, resulting in malnourished babies. There is also little support for gynecological health and the prevention of gynecological cancers, an unmet need for contraceptives and family planning resources, and few health services for adolescent girls.
While the prevalence of HIV/AIDS in Uganda has decreased since the 1980s and 1990s, it is still a serious health concern, especially within slum settlements. Many people do not know their HIV status, whereas others who are HIV positive are not receiving sufficient care and treatment. In those settlements that have done testing activities, community members have found HIV infection rates to be much higher among women. However, women often do not have the information or resources to prevent the transmission of the virus to their unborn child.
Despite the many challenges within their communities, the Health and Hygiene (H&H) committees of the National Slum Dwellers Federation in Jinja are working to affect positive change. There are approximately 34 H&H committees in Jinja, and each committee has five members. H&H conducts various activities that aim to improve the health of fellow Federation and community members. In order to improve sanitation and access to hygienic toilets, H&H committees facilitate cleanup events, working alongside community members. In Lubaga, for example, H&H members sourced hoes, gum boots, and other materials to successfully clear the latrines of waste. They informed the local health inspector of the activity and its purpose, and he expressed his willingness to offer government assistance for future projects based on the success of the day’s activity. H&H has also implemented health education initiatives by gathering community members together to discuss certain issues and also going door-to-door to inform individuals about health topics. Members have reported a noticeable change within the settlements as a result of their sensitization efforts. For example, more individuals are boiling their water before use and some males expressed their willingness to be tested for HIV when they had previously been reluctant to do so. Furthermore, H&H has executed Voluntary Counseling and Testing (VCT) in Jinja’s settlements, in an effort to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS, empower individuals to know their status, and provide additional resources and support for those who are HIV positive.
As one member aptly stated, “You need a healthy body to have a healthy life. You cannot be a saver if you do not have a healthy life.”