Wharton Around the Globe: Treating Uganda’s Medical Transport Troubles

Contributor: Jennifer Fernandez, WG’20
To learn more about Jennifer, click here.

 

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Over spring break, four team members from the Wharton Global Health Volunteers (WGHV) club traveled to Uganda to partner with LifeNet International. LifeNet operates in East Africa to provide logistics, financing, equipment, and training services to their network of independently run, faith-based health centers. In order to instill robust management standards and engage health center staff in addressing operational challenges, LifeNet partners with health centers to ensure local responsibility and sustainability. With sustainable operations in place, LifeNet and its network are able to innovate and implement locally-sourced solutions to address health challenges faced by some of the poorest communities. To identify potential opportunities for LifeNet to support future capacity building, the Wharton team was asked to explore and document current challenges and best practices for transportation-related barriers to accessing healthcare in Uganda.

Screen_Shot_2019-07-08_at_3.31.24_PM.pngIn Uganda, some of the major challenges to ensuring adequate access to care are related to poor transportation infrastructure and lack of emergency medicine resources. While some guidelines were established at the national level to formalize referral practices, there are very few overarching standards, processes, or ways to monitor referrals. To understand the key referral challenges that both patients and providers face, the team aimed to document the current state and define specific opportunities for LifeNet to address.

Prior to traveling to Uganda, the team set up informational interviews with researchers and other not-for-profit organizations operating in East Africa to understand typical referral practices and learn about regional solutions that have been explored. As one example, the team learned of a network of ‘boda-boda,’ or light motorcycles, drivers who agreed to provide subsidized transportation for non-emergency referrals and in return received EMT training and reduced maintenance costs. The result was patients who were able to afford the transportation between health centers and therefore able to follow-up on their referrals, while being accompanied by a driver who had some level of medical training to ensure safe transportation. Following these conversations, the Wharton team expanded the scope of the LifeNet project to include recommendations for both potential transportation initiatives as well as partnerships for broader solutions related to emergency care and referral practices

Screen_Shot_2019-07-08_at_3.32.15_PM.pngOnce in Uganda, the Wharton team had the opportunity to visit primarily with LifeNet partner clinics. As faith-based, private, not-for-profit clinics, visiting patients do pay to receive care and treatment at these facilities. The team found the staff clearly communicated and advertised their prices in the communities they serve and have robust processes for determining what types of services, medications, and procedures they can provide. Furthermore, the team found these faith-based health centers were deeply ingrained in their communities and were intrinsically motivated to provide accessible services. One such practice is for these health centers to partner with neighborhood-based Village Health Teams to provide free immunizations and screenings in the villages several times a month. By bringing care to the patients, these health centers are able to meet and treat patients that otherwise may not have sought care or been able to access care at a clinic. Finally, the Wharton team met with LifeNet staff and facilitated a working session with several non-profit partners to identify root causes of transportation-related access barriers and gain consensus on a set of priorities that these organizations would explore further. 

LifeNet staff and their partners across Uganda are dedicated to providing support for patients in their communities. The Wharton team was excited and humbled to learn from such passionate professionals about the challenges they face and the improvements they make every day to provide quality care. The team furthermore looks forward to staying in touch with LifeNet to learn more about any future transportation and emergency medical services initiatives they implement. Thank you to the alumni who made this trip and this project possible for our members this past semester! 

 

Contact Jennifer at:
jenfe@wharton.upenn.edu