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World Health Day: Improving health and development for children in Uganda

6 April 2021

Today is World Health Day (April 7) and this year’s theme is “building a fairer, healthier world”, calling on leaders to ensure everyone has access to quality health services when and where they need them. 

To celebrate World Health Day, Sense International is sharing the launch of a new sensory screening and early intervention programme in Southern Uganda, which will improve health and development for children with deafblindness/ multi-sensory impairments (MSI) and prepare them for school.

In Uganda, an estimated 973,000 people have deafblindness. Children with complex disabilities, such as deafblindness, are 17 times less likely to go to school than children without complex disabilities. Currently, sight and hearing tests are not offered to babies so most children with deafblindness are not identified until later in life.

Early Intervention programme 

Sense International is one of the few organisations in Uganda providing screening and therapy for children with deafblindness/ MSI. Working with local partners, Sense International’s new programme is bringing a two-step model to communities in Masaka, Lwengo, Bukomansimbi and Kalungu in southern Uganda to enable more children to access the screening services.

Children who are identified with deafblindness will then be enrolled in an Early Intervention programme where they will be supported by occupational therapists. Early intervention is a crucial step in helping children with deafblindness get ready for school and give them the best start in life.

The two-year programme will:

  • Screen 15,000 children aged 0-8 years for sight and hearing impairments
  • Enroll 100 children identified with deafblindness/MSI in an early intervention programme where they will be supported by occupational therapists
  • Support 100 parents/ carers to continue their child’s development and therapy at home
  • Train 32 health workers to deliver screening services, carry out assessments and refer children with deafblindness for specialist therapy
  • Train 32 parents/ carers and special education teachers on community based sensory therapy
  • Provide children with assistive devices, such as sitting supports or standing frames, and teach parents/ carers how to make them from locally sourced materials.
  • Advocate for the Ministry of Health in Uganda to adopt the screening programme so that all children in Uganda can be tested for sensory impairments

The programme will be adapted according to any further restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure the safety of the staff and people Sense International supports.

Building on previous success

The programme follows two previous Sense International screening and early intervention projects in Uganda which began in 2016, including a programme funded by the Finding Grace appeal. A total of 71,000 children were assessed and those who were found to have risks of deafblindness were tested for sight and hearing impairments. As a result, 212 children were identified with deafblindness/MSI and enrolled in the early intervention programme. A total of 42 of those children are ready to start primary school in 2021 and others will continue therapy at home.

Helping children like Junior

A little boy stands up using assistive equipment.

When Junior was six months old, his mother Mable noticed he couldn’t sit up and he was referred to an occupational therapist through Sense International Uganda’s programme. An assessment found that he had multi-sensory impairments including blindness and he started receiving early intervention support and therapy.

Now aged four years old, Junior responds to touch and voices and can sit with support. Mable said: “I feel contented now because I do not see any problem with my son at this stage unlike before.” She is enjoying watching her son reach milestones she never thought possible through support from Sense International Uganda.

Find out more information about Sense International Uganda

First published: Tuesday 18 June 2013
Last updated: Friday 6 December 2019