Prossy Muyingo is a 37-year-old Ugandan, she works as a hairdresser and doubles as a community health worker. She sees her long braiding sessions as the perfect opportunity to educate her clients on vaccination, reproductive health, and disease prevention. Guided by the belief that women should have the autonomy to make informed choices about their health, she educates young women on reproductive health, including options for contraception and prevention of sexually transmitted diseases. She was recently awarded by Women in Global Health as a Heroine of Health. In this interview with Blessing Oladunjoye, she speaks about her work and the impacts so far.
Blessing Oladunjoye: Can you please introduce yourself?
Prossy Muyingo: My name is Prossy Muyingo I’m a professional Community Health Worker (CWH), in the Mityana district of Uganda. . I’m being supported, trained and mentored by Living Goods and a Minister of Health. My responsibilities include assessing and treating children under five years for malaria, pneumonia and diarrhoea. I give support to pregnant mothers. I provide family planning methods to my community and ensure timely referrals. I consider my role a divine call and have successfully bridged the gap between the community and healthcare facilities. During the Pandemic, I faced the challenges of limited personal protective equipment. But still, I took action by joining an advocacy group to champion our rights and benefits. I’m proud to be a member of the Community Health Impact Coalition since 2020, which has provided valuable knowledge and professional growth opportunities to better serve my community and the country at large.
Blessing Oladunjoye: What do you think are some of the gaps that young women experience in accessing reproductive health services?
Prossy Muyingo: There are many gaps, but one, I can start with is the limited available services. In some areas, like my community, there may be a lack of accessible reproductive health services, including family planning clinics, STD testing centres, and counselling facilities. Secondly, health care provider attitudes, negative attitudes or judgmental behaviour from healthcare providers can be discouraging to young women seeking reproductive health services. A lack of empathy or understanding can lead to avoidance of healthcare care services. The third one is confidentiality and privacy concerns. Fear of breaches in confidentiality and lack of privacy can discourage young women from seeking reproductive health services. The fourth is the financial problem, the cost of reproductive health services, including contraceptives, regular checkups, and screening, can be a significant barrier for young women, especially those from low-income backgrounds. Also, young women in certain regions or communities like mine, may face barriers to accessing accurate and reliable information on reproductive health due to limited Internet access, stigma and social norms. The stigma surrounding reproductive health topics can deter young women from seeking information and services. Many young women may not receive adequate and comprehensive sex education, leaving them uninformed about their reproductive health rights, contraceptive options, sexually transmitted infections, and safe sex practices. This lack of education can lead to misinformation, confusion, and risky behaviours. But addressing these gaps requires comprehensive efforts including better sex education programs, improved access to information and services, financial support for those in need, training for healthcare providers to create supportive environments, and policy changes that prioritise young women’s reproductive health rights. In addition, as a community health worker, I play a crucial role in bridging these gaps by providing education, advocacy and support to younger women in their communities.
Blessing Oladunjoye: Thank you so much. So I found that you have an interesting way of engaging young women about their reproductive health. Can you share how you engage women and inform them about their reproductive health rights?
Prossy Muyingo: I’m a hairdresser and I engage women about reproductive health rights whenever I am making their hair. When you come into my home, we start discussing family planning and I make sure that by the end you understand everything you need to know. For instance, if she’s a pregnant mother, we start discussing about the vaccination; how effective the vaccination is. For example, there is a lady who has three children under five years old in a row without knowing the importance of family planning. But when I talked to her while I was plaiting her hair, she had an understanding of the medications she should take for family planning.
Blessing Oladunjoye: Let’s talk about health workers, do you think female health workers earn the same pay as their male counterparts?
Prossy Muyingo: I can say that historically, there have been significant pay gaps between men and women across various professions and the healthcare industry is no exception. While progressively there has been effort to reduce the gender pay gap in many countries, it is still a prevailing issue in some regions. In the context of community health workers, there could be a pay disparity between female and male workers. Factors such as gender biases, occupational segregation and negotiation skills may contribute to these discrete passes. Efforts have been made to address gender pay gaps, including cooperative policies and awareness campaigns. These measures aim to promote pay equity and ensure that women receive equal pay for equal work. It’s important to note that the situation may vary depending on the specific country, region and organisation.
Blessing Oladunjoye: You said this is a germane issue because there’s a significant gender pay gap within the sector which has been in the play for a couple of years. How do you think this can be addressed?
Prossy Muyingo: I can say that employers should conduct a thorough analysis of their pay structures to identify any disparities between genders. This analysis should include a review of job roles, responsibilities and qualifications to ensure that pay is based on relevant factors rather than gender. Another thing I can say is to promote salary negotiation skills. We should encourage women to negotiate their salaries during the hiring process and for promotions. Studies have shown that women often negotiate less frequently than men, leading to potential disparities in pay. Another I can remember is engaging in community awareness. I’m a community health worker. I can also engage in community awareness campaigns to enlighten the public about the gender pay gap and its impact on women’s economic security and overall well-being. Remember, addressing the gender pay gap requires a multiple approach, improving employers, policymakers and society as a whole. By working together, we can make progress towards achieving gender equality in the workplace.
Blessing Oladunjoye: Great. Thank you so much. That’s quite fantastic because women must make decisions that affect them. One major thing I was amazed at when I was reading about what you’ve done is how you talk to women while doing their hair. Most women spend longer hours doing their hair and you utilize that period to inform them about their sexual reproductive health rights. So I found that amazing. But in doing all of this, what are some of the challenges you have encountered so far?
Prossy Muyingo: Thank you so much. The challenges are many, but majorly is limited resources. I often work in resource-constrained settings which can make it challenging to access essential medical supplies, equipment and transportation. There are cultural and language barriers, and working in the community can present communication challenges, especially when there are language barriers and cultural differences. There are more than 20 languages in my community and I can’t speak all. Building trust and rapport may take place in the community I serve. Another thing is stigma and misconceptions, some communities may have stigmatised, disbeliefs or misconceptions about health conditions and medical care, making it difficult to promote prevention measures and syncing time retreatment. For example, a person can fail to start at a clinic because they said if you start that medicine, you’re going to swallow until death.
Also, the emotionally tasking nature of the job coupled with the workload and exposure to challenging health situations can lead to burnout and stress for community health workers. Lack of recognition; we have worked as community health workers, always not receiving the recognition we deserve for our crucial work in the healthcare care system which can affect motivation and job certification. There is limited training and professional development opportunities. As a community health worker, there is that barrier to accessing those training and opportunity. Most importantly, we community health workers face safety risks while conducting home visits or working in the field.
Health disparities: working in underserved communities can make it a challenge to address root causes to achieve equitable health outcomes. Coordination and Collaboration between Community health workers and healthcare facilities and other stakeholders is vital for effective community health interventions. However, coordinating efforts and ensuring communication can be complex. Despite these challenges, community health workers play a crucial role in promoting health, preventing diseases and bridging the gap between community and health facilities. So our effort is often ready to improve health outcomes and greater community engagement in a healthy care system. Thank you.
Blessing Oladunjoye: Great. Thank you so much and well done. Going further to the next question. You’ve talked about the challenges, which are of course numerous, but despite these challenges, you’ve not relented. So what has kept you going in this work that you do? What has been the motivating factor?
Prossy Muyingo: Okay, thank you so much. Love and kindness are never wasted. I get support from Living Goods, that is the organisation which supports me. I got a digital tool which helped me to connect with my fellow community health workers and my supervisors whenever I get a challenge. The connecting and linking up with the Community Health Impact Coalition. It has helped me with the online course I already did. It has helped me to know how to use tools like joining this call. I can even conduct a call and I know how to answer calls. The difference I’m making in my community also helps me to continue serving. I can move in my community.
Also, my desire to give empathy and compassion towards those facing health challenges can be a powerful driving force. You see, my child has sickle cell disease, so when I moved into that village and I see all mothers with children like mine and they are okay because they are receiving good counsel, they know why they are like that and they know how to take care of them. Even that one can give me the courage to continue serving, and building relationships in the community. For sure, they trust me. Apart from the community, I have a good relationship with my supervisors. Whenever I call them, they know that I have something, there is a challenge I’m facing. Also, I represented my community health workers at different fora and those opportunities pushed me to continue serving the community. Another is a sense of community being a part of a team collaborating with other healthcare professionals and community organisations can create a stronger sense of support, overcoming challenges, navigating and overcoming challenges and barriers in the healthcare system in the community can provide a sense of accomplishment and resilience to personal growth. I find my fulfilment in my work as I learn to be patient, understanding and open-minded in the face of my community and individual circumstances.
Recognition and gratitude have helped me to push on the commitment to social justice motivated by a desire to address health disparities, creating a more just and equitable healthcare system. The motivation of a community health worker can come from a combination of these factors and may vary from person to person.
Blessing Oladunjoye: Would you like to talk about your latest achievements?
Prossy Muyingo: In July, I won an award from Women Deliver 2023 as a Heroine in health. Such an award would likely serve as validation and recognition for the hard work and dedication put into promoting sexual reproductive health rights services. It will boost the community health workers’ confidence and motivation, knowing that their efforts, my fellow community health workers, are making a positive impact on the lives of women and communities. I pray that this award could also increase visibility, providing a platform to raise awareness about sexual reproductive health issues and the importance of accessible and comprehensive services. Additionally, winning such an award might open up opportunities for collaborating with other global health organisations, governments or non-government organisations.
This should lead to increased resources, funding and support for sexually productive health programs and initiatives. It may also inspire other women to pursue a career in global health and encourage existing health workers to continue their efforts in advancing sexual reproductive health services. The recognition from the award will also act as a reminder of the importance of promoting sexually productive health services and the crucial role of CHWs in bridging gaps in healthcare access. It will fuel a sense of responsibility and commitment to continue advocating for the rights and well-being of women and girls, ensuring they have access to quality, sexually productive health information, education and services.
So winning the Women in Global Health Award would serve as a powerful reminder of the positive impact that dedicated individuals can have in promoting sexually productive services and advancing the health and rights of women worldwide, motivating the CHWs to do even more in this crucial area of public health.
Blessing Oladunjoye: What would be your charge to young women, especially sexual reproductive health advocates, to keep up their work?
Prossy Muyingo: My charge to young women, especially those advocating for sexual and reproductive health rights, is to continue and amplify their important work with dedication, passion and resiliency. So my effort in advocating for sexual reproductive health is crucial and can make a significant difference in the lives of individuals and communities. A major thing for them to remember is to ensure that their advocacy efforts are inclusive and intersectional. Sexually productive health affects individuals from diverse backgrounds and understanding and addressing the unique challenges faced by different communities is essential for comprehensive and effective advocacy. They should also collaborate and network by building stronger partnerships with like-minded organisations and individual collaborative efforts can amplify impact and bring about meaningful change.
Utilise various platforms including social media, community events and public forums to share your messages and inspire others to take action. For instance, I have social media platform accounts, so I post the work I do and help those with the problem to overcome the barriers. Engage with the policymakers: I advocate for policymakers that they should promote sexually productive rights and access to services, engaging with them and advocating for evidence. Best policies can lead to sustainable changes at systemic level. CHWs should also prioritise self-care because this work can be emotionally and mentally challenging.
SRH advocates should also stay updated on the latest developments and research in the field of sexually productive health as it will help them to better understand the changing landscape and tailor their advocacy strategies accordingly.