Uganda: School Health Club helps students and communities stay safe from diseases

Uganda: School Health Club helps students and communities stay safe from diseases

Uganda: School Health Club helps students and communities stay safe from diseases

Uganda: School Health Club helps students and communities stay safe from diseases

Despite much progress on health in recent decades, Uganda remains vulnerable to a variety of life-threatening diseases, such as Ebola, malaria, and rabies. Discover how the Uganda Red Cross is helping school students learn about different disease threats so they can help keep their families and communities safe.

“The School Health Club has taught us how to look after our health. I also bring the knowledge I learn from the club to my home, and my parents take those messages to the wider community.”

These are the words of Kikanshemeza, a pupil at Mwisi Primary school in south-west Uganda and proud member of her School Health Club.

Set up by the Uganda Red Cross, the School Health Club helps primary and secondary school pupils understand how to protect themselves from various disease threats, stay healthy, and share their newfound knowledge with their fellow pupils, families, and wider communities.

It’s one of the many different activities under the Community Epidemic and Pandemic Preparedness Programme (CP3) – a multi-country programme run by the IFRC and seven Red Cross National Societies to help communities, first responders, and other partners prepare for, detect, prevent, and respond to health risks.

Since joining her School Health Club, Kikanshemeza has built a tippy tap—a simple, low-cost handwashing facility that can help reduce up to 50% of avoidable infections—in her home, supported her family to use it regularly and properly, and shared life-saving information about different diseases.

“She told us not to eat the meat of animals that have died and to make sure they are buried properly, and also that bats are a potential cause of Ebola and monkeys can transmit it too,” explains Kikanshemeza’s mother, Annet.

Knowledge is power

Kikanshemeza is one of 30 School Health Club members at Mwisi Primary school. The club meets up once a week in special sessions led by Akampurira, a facilitator from the Uganda Red Cross, who teaches them all about different diseases—including how to recognize signs and symptoms, which people might be most at risk, and actions the students can take to stop diseases from spreading.

Club members are then responsible for maintaining school handwashing facilities, making sure all students follow proper hygiene practices, and sharing what they’ve learned with their follow students—often through large, theatrical performances in the school hall.

Students act out informative and lively scenes: everything from a patient seeking help from a doctor after noticing signs of malaria, to a person being bitten by a dog in the street and rushing to get vaccinated.

Tackling serious health issues in this more fun and light-hearted way helps break down complex topics, keeps fellow students engaged, and helps them retain the knowledge in case they need it in future.

Why involve school children in epidemic preparedness?

The IFRC and our member National Societies have long focused on helping people prepare for, respond to, and recover from epidemics.

We know from experience that effective epidemic preparedness must involve communities themselves, first responders, and partners from across all parts of society – such as schools.

“School health clubs have been a game changer in health risk communication, as engaged learners have been excellent peer educators in school, and also change agents at the household level,” explains Henry Musembi, CP3 Programme Delegate for Uganda and Kenya.

“The clubs are a great platform for training the next generation of epidemic emergency responders and champions in target communities,” he adds.

Seeing positive change

Kushaba, another School Health Club member whose brother had previously suffered from malaria, says he’s learned a lot from the club and has noticed positive change in his community:

“We learned how we can control malaria by slashing compounds, draining all stagnant water to destroy habitat for mosquitoes, and how you can use a treated mosquito net.”

“Before the introduction of the School Health Club, we didn’t have tippy taps, we didn’t know how to use toilets, even how we can clean our school. Pupils, they were suffering from diseases like malaria, cholera, but now because of the School Health Club, they are fine,” he adds.

Distributed by APO Group on behalf of International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).