5 Ways Uganda is Improving Mental Health Care
Following Uganda’s independence in 1964, the nation went through devastating periods of unrest that significantly impacted its population of 42.8 million people. While Uganda has seen major improvements in recent years due to reaching their millennium development goals, such as lowering poverty from 33.8 percent in 1998 to 19.5 percent in 2012, the nation is still struggling with an epidemic of mental illness. As much as 35 percent of the population suffers from mental illness, 15 percent of which require treatment.

Changing Precedents

Major improvements have been made to Uganda’s healthcare system, raising the average life expectancy from 44 to 59-years-old. However, less then 1 percent of the 9.8 percent of GDP Uganda dedicates to healthcare goes towards mental health. The majority of this funding goes towards the national mental health hospital in Butabika, which holds 500 beds and is still almost always overcrowded.

Mental Health Still Neglected

The rest of Uganda’s mental health budget is spread out over a network of 28 out-patient facilities that specialize in follow-up care. These services are starved of the funding needed for proper medication. According to a study conducted by the World Health Organization in 2006, only 57 percent of clinics had at least one psychotropic medication in each class, meaning medication someone needs is highly unlikely to be available in Uganda.

The stigma around mental illness in the nation comes in particular from traditional beliefs that associate illnesses of the mind with spirits and witchcraft. Due to religious culture in the area, mental illness is viewed as a spiritual curse.

While mental health care in Uganda is struggling, many improvements have been made in recent years to help those who are affected by it.

5 Ways Uganda is Improving Mental Health Care

  1. Ending the stigma around mental illness is the first step that must be taken to tackle the problem. According to the Community Development Officer of the rural district, “…most people think that [mental illness] is bewitching. Others associate it with disagreements with their elders.” Bringing awareness about the true cause of mental illness is allowing the healthcare system to grow and make room for mental health care. This may be the most important of the 5 ways Uganda is improving mental health care.
  2. Increased aid would drastically improve the living conditions in Uganda. For every dollar invested in mental health, the economy sees a return of $4 due to an improved ability to work. In Uganda, the mentally ill often have trouble finding employment, however, increased aid would allow them to become contributing members of society. Organizations such as Basic Needs are working to tackle both poverty and mental illness by supporting locals to create small businesses. By helping the mentally ill and their families, organizations such as this are increasing peoples means and helping them afford the care that can save them.
  3. The Mental Health Action Plan for 2013-2020 was released by the World Health Organization (WHO) in the spring of 2012. The plan cites its goal “is to promote mental well-being, prevent mental disorders, provide care, enhance recovery, promote human rights and reduce the mortality, morbidity and disability for persons with mental disorders.” In order to accomplish this, the WHO has set out to achieve four goals: strengthen government leadership, provide integrated mental health care in community-based areas, strategize prevention techniques, and strengthen information and research for mental illness.
  4. Grand Challenges Canada, an organization that supports “Bold Ideas with Big Impact,” has trained nearly 500 faith healers, otherwise known as witch doctors, to recognize symptoms of mental illness and refer them to physiatrists. This unlikely tactic takes advantage of the abundant number of traditional healers in Uganda. While there are only 32 western-trained, psychiatrists in the country, there is a ratio of one witch doctor for every 290 Ugandans. As a result, most suffers of mental illness go to faith healers for their symptoms. This new technique is building a bridge between traditional healing and western health care.
  5. New Legislation in Uganda such as the Mental Health Act of 2018 is improving health care conditions. The Act provides mental health treatment at primary health centers, along with emergency treatment and involuntary admission and treatment for those who need it.

Mental health care is a complicated system and as Uganda improves life expectancy and poverty reduction, improvements and funding for mental health will become more available. There is a long way to go for the Ugandans suffering from mental illness, but enhancements are present as indicated by these 5 ways Uganda is improving mental health care.

Maura Byrne
Photo: Pixabay


31 bitsCurrently, 80 percent of the world population lives on less than $10 a day. Needless to say, this is a time where the global poverty rate, although at the lowest it has ever been, is still in desperate need of improvement. The estimated unemployment rate as of 2017 was 7.9 percent, a 0.4 percent increase from 2016.

Fortunately, there are organizations and companies such as 31 Bits that are striving to combat the current unemployment dilemma that is actively contributing to global poverty. Starting its journey selling jewelry at local school events and craft fairs, nearly a decade later, 31 Bits is a thriving company composed of strong women whose success has been driven by their desire to help struggling and poor artisans in providing them with dignified job opportunities all throughout the world.

How 31 Bits Came to Be

The young women who started 31 Bits were college students by day while learning about marketing and international development at night. They had no background in business whatsoever; however, they did not allow this obstacle to hinder them. After returning from a life-changing trip to Uganda in college, International Director and Founder Kallie Dovel met many women, most who were single moms without jobs or an education that were the same age as herself.

Although they lacked an education, Kallie was instantly drawn to their exceptional skills and resourcefulness; they were making jewelry out of old posters. Bringing a box of jewelry back home, she was able to sell all that she had to her friends with ease.

Kallie was hit with the realization that with the skills that these women possessed, they needed a market – this is how 31 Bits has come to flourish. Producing products that are thoughtfully designed and ethically made, the mission statement of 31 Bits is, “We use fashion and design to drive positive change in the world by providing artisans with dignified opportunities and inspiring customers to live meaningful lives.”

How 31 Bits is Carrying Out its Mission

Actively defying cruel sweatshops where the worker is not paid fairly and is treated poorly, 31 Bits puts the treatment of its artisans at the forefront. The workshops contain quality materials and the necessary protective supplies, and the organization’s goal is to ensure that each artisan is able to make a sustainable monthly salary so that they are able to provide for their families.

31 Bits sells jewelry, bags, home décor, ceramics, textiles and more. Its brass jewelry is crafted by hand in Bali and its beads are also handmade in Uganda. Its website explains the religious reasoning behind the name 31 Bits, saying, “We called the company 31 Bits because Proverbs 31 describes a diligent woman providing and caring for her family using her gifts and talents. Oh, and the ‘bits’ comes from our original and bestselling jewelry that uses beads made out of ‘bits’ of paper!”

Combating Poverty and Assisting Artists

Because 31 Bits recognizes that there are many countries that suffer from corruption and a poor infrastructure which, as a result, limits many from access to the global market, it works to actively decrease the poverty rate for these countries while sustaining a family atmosphere and preserving tradition. “We’ve been able to take age-old practices and give them a modern twist,” the company explains. “Through 31 Bits, [artisans] now have a place to sell their meaningful work and tell stories of their heritage.”

Artisans who work with 31 Bits also receive health care and treatment, counseling, financial education and more. 31 Bits is not only combating the vast amount of global poverty that millions are attempting to grapple with, it is also promoting and encouraging these artisans to pursue their dreams.

– Angelina Gillispie
Photo: Flickr


Every year, the citizens of Bangladesh have to contend with monsoon season, a cool, rainy period that usually lasts from June until October. Most parts of the country get at least 2000 millimeters of rain per year, and 80 percent of that falls during monsoon season. Northeastern Bangladesh is typically hit hardest, sometimes receiving over 4000 millimeters per year.

The heavy rains bring another problem: flooding. When rivers flood, they destroy both crops and nutrient-rich topsoil. As flood waters recede, they often leave behind large quantities of sand and silt, which reduces the availability of arable land.

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) blames this problem in part for Bangladesh’s malnutrition epidemic. According to USAID, 25 percent of Bangladeshis remain food insecure, and women and children are affected most. Of children under five, 16 percent are acutely malnourished and 41 percent have stunted growth.

But one organization believes it has found a solution. Practical Action, an international NGO that uses technology to alleviate poverty in developing countries, has spent several years experimenting with various “sandbar cropping” techniques in Bangladesh. Their solution? Pumpkins.

Practical Action’s tried-and-true technique for farming pumpkins in the sand is to dig a pit in the sand and fill it with compost and a dozen pumpkin seeds. The pumpkins can grow and be harvested before monsoon season rolls around again.

Pumpkins provide a variety of health and logistical benefits. They can store for a year, providing a stable, reliable source of food. They are also a good source of Vitamin A, a nutrient often lacking in Bangladeshi diets. And in a nation where rivers often change course during monsoons and farmers thus lose their land, sandbar cropping provides more security.

This is why Practical Action started Pumpkins Against Poverty, a project to train 50,000 Bangladeshis with no land of their own to grow up to 600 pumpkins a year. Participants can use the extra income generated by selling the crop to buy livestock or send their children to school. The project will last until March 2018 and has the potential to be replicated nationwide.

Bangladesh is far from the only country to realize the value in farming pumpkins as a solution to poverty. Uganda has also embraced the crop as a profitable, nutritious foodstuff. Pumpkin varieties in Uganda are numerous and include Sweet Cream, Bala, Dulu, Onziga, Sunfish, Anderina and Sugar Pie, among others.

Fatuma Namatosi, founder of Ugandan agribusiness firm Byeffe Foods Company Ltd., decided to center her business on pumpkins, citing them as her favorite crop. The company makes pumpkin porridge, which is popular among children and gives them a vital nutrition boost. Byeffe also helps teach young Ugandans agricultural entrepreneurial skills and creates jobs in the field that employ thousands of young people.

Namatosi founded Byeffe in 2015. Since then, she says, “I’ve provided more accessible and nutritious food options to communities across Uganda, created a variety of agricultural jobs that generate income for families, and empowered more people like me, especially young women, to create their own path in the agriculture industry.” All that progress comes down to pumpkins.

Chuck Hasenauer

Photo: Flickr

Renewable Energy in Africa: UgandaRenewable energy in Africa has made great strides in recent years—but, as the poet John Donne once wrote, “No man is an island entire of itself.” Building the infrastructure for green energy is an international project, generally reliant on international conglomerates with wide-ranging, specific technical knowledge and the funds to move large projects forward.

According to the International Energy Agency, Chinese firms were responsible for 30 percent of the utility power-generation capacity built in sub-Saharan Africa between 2010 and 2015, and 56 percent of the capacity they have built (or will build) this decade comes from renewable sources, including wind and hydroelectric power.

Still, Africa’s utility-scale energy infrastructure is notoriously underdeveloped, which means localities and individual consumers often opt for smaller, more independent means of generating energy and their associated programs.

GET FiT Uganda is one such program. Its goal is to increase the country’s energy production by 20 percent by stimulating private investment in smaller green energy projects. The program draws funding from the Norwegian, German, and United Kingdom governments as well as the EU-Africa Infrastructure Trust Fund. It culminated in late 2016 with the unveiling of the 10-megawatt solar power plant in Soroti, capable of powering 40,000 homes, businesses and schools in the town and surrounding district.

The plant’s operations manager, Phillip Karumuna, has said of the plant, “The abundance of the solar resource in Eastern Uganda makes it perfect for solar power generation. The sun shines throughout most of the day, there isn’t too much rain here, and this means the plant will produce lots of power for years to come.”

The new plant means the district will enjoy access to computers and the Internet, and activities like cooking will no longer be relegated to the dim light of lanterns. Achom Naomi, director of a local nursery and primary school, says that once the schools gain access to power, more students will enroll and school standards will improve—a result of access to light for reading and homework at night.

The Soroti solar plant—the largest of its kind in East Africa—follows the launch of a power plant in Kakira in 2015, and a third plant will be coming to Tororo. All three plants were funded through GET FiT.

The situation in Uganda is a snapshot of what renewable energy in Africa is achieving—and can achieve—on the continent itself and across the developing world. And the United States should not be content to let China and Europe dominate the investment sphere. By ramping up spending on renewable energy in Africa and other developing nations, America stands to build instrumental alliances and partnerships in trade and for national and global security.

Chuck Hasenauer

Photo: Flickr

Uganda's Som Chess Academy
With a single chess board and a heart for change, Robert Katende launched Uganda’s Som Chess Academy in the Katwe slums of Kampala in 2004. Thirteen years later, the program boasts 13 different centers in varying parts of Uganda (one which focuses on children with disabilities), an impending expansion into neighboring Kenya, an estimated participant count of 1,400 and a world-class chess player in Phiona Mutesi.

The most attention has been gifted to the incredible story of Ms. Mutesi, whose rise from the slums of Katwe to the international chess arena has been featured in ESPN Magazine and Disney’s Queen of Katwe film. And understandably so—Phiona has been honored in various capacities, most notably as one of three “Women of Impact” at the 2013 Women of the World Summit. Her story is especially significant considering the relatively limited role of women in Ugandan society. Such a role ensures that the literacy rate for girls 15 years of age and older is cemented at 65 percent—a rate which is a full 18 percent lower than that of their male peers. Consequentially, Phiona’s success has paved the way for other women to also strive for their goals and meet their potential in spite of traditional gender barriers like minimized education.

However, the everyday successes of Uganda’s Som Chess Academy demand recognition as well. The program is completely free for its participants and provides tangible perks, such as meals, but it also provides something arguably more important: intangible perks, such as personal empowerment, something that is so incredibly significant for children who have very few opportunities to know their strength.

The program operates under the guidance of about 40 peer coaches who aim to not only teach chess but to teach it well—in 2015, Som Academy placed seventh in the national chess league—but to also teach life skills that focus on character development, goal-creation and leadership skills, too. Chess is only a vessel with which to facilitate these understandings; the strategy, mental discipline and adaptation required to play the game is translated into real-life usage as well.

Furthermore, the program actually enrolls participants in school and supports them throughout their academic endeavors, with several of the program’s graduates going on to higher education levels that would have otherwise been inaccessible to children entrapped in the cycle of slum poverty. In an environment where 31 percent of urban children aged 13 to 18 are not attending secondary school, a free program that empowers and ultimately pushes such children into the educational system is truly an incredible gift to a deserving community.

Kailee Nardi

Photo: Flickr

Agricultural Poverty in UgandaInnovative technological developments are supporting communities and changing lives in Uganda, a country home to one of the youngest and most quickly growing populations in the world. One such advancement is the Community Knowledge Worker (CKW) app – created by the Grameen Foundation – designed to combat agricultural poverty in Uganda.

About 86 percent of Ugandans are farmers of minuscule plots of land and most work by hand, with access to only the most preliminary tools. Poor access to information on rainfall – combined with viruses and parasites that can devastate crop production – has left the country’s dominant agricultural community vulnerable to poverty and famine. Approximately 33 percent of Ugandan children, including those in the lush hills where much of the cultivation takes place, are starving.

Bolstered by a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, CKW has been developed in response to the endemic problems in Uganda’s agricultural sector. It works in two ways: by building ties with communities through a physical presence (40 “knowledge workers” have been hired during the trial run) and through an app, which provides community leaders with the information needed for a successful harvest.

Results so far have been excellent. Mary, one of the community leaders who uses the app, now has access to weather reports, data on the best market price for her produce as well as “Almanac,” a farmer’s encyclopaedia. Her banana patch, formerly rife with worms, has been turned around. She can then subsequently use the CKW app to work out the best location, time and price in order to sell her produce.

CKW’s success can be attributed to its recognition of how to most simply solve the problem of agricultural poverty in Uganda. Women are the heaviest users of the service, giving them an invaluable lifeline as they struggle to balance child rearing with farming.

The widespread use of cell phones is also a demonstration of how readily accessible this kind of technology can be even in the most remote places; shockingly, more people have access to cell phones than toilets in Africa.

The Grameen foundation has treated this dispersal of the project in Uganda as a trial run. Plans to expand in the future have the potential to alleviate poverty for farmers across the continent and beyond.

Jonathan Riddick

Photo: Flickr

Vaccines in UgandaUganda is an African country that has made huge strides in recent years in terms of vaccination and immunization coverage. Vaccines in Uganda have become more available to children in the last two decades and new vaccines have been developed and implemented into the country’s routine programs. Despite this, coverage for certain diseases still lags behind other African countries. Here are eight facts about vaccines in Uganda:

  1. In 2012, Uganda launched a nationwide HPV vaccine to help fight the country’s most common form of cancer. Cervical cancer is three times more common in Uganda than the global average. Uganda’s Ministry of Health helped roll out the new vaccine program, launching in several different school districts to raise awareness about the disease.
  2. Uganda achieved 90 percent child immunization coverage for certain diseases in 2014, and since then, coverage has risen to as high as 98 percent.
  3. The last polio case was seen in Uganda in 2010. Uganda plans to fully eradicate the disease by 2018, and will replace the oral polio vaccine with a more effective injectable one using a $1.5 million grant from the Ministry of Health.
  4. Uganda experienced a Yellow Fever outbreak in April of 2016, with 30 confirmed cases and seven deaths. The country’s rapid response team collected samples, confirmed cases and collected and referred samples to the Uganda Virus Research Institute to help quell the spread of the disease. Uganda is located on the “Yellow Fever belt” of Africa and is a high-risk country for transmission of the Yellow Fever virus.
  5. In 2014, Uganda introduced a pneumococcal conjugate vaccine to stave off pneumonia in both childhood and adulthood. Despite increased introduction of vaccines in Uganda, diseases like pneumonia and tuberculosis remain a threat due to under-immunization.
  6. DTP3 coverage in Uganda has increased by 14 percent in the last 11 years, from 64 percent to 78 percent. Uganda aims to achieve 80 percent DTP3 coverage, though they have struggled to increase coverage in recent years and lag behind other African countries such as Kenya.
  7. Over 90 percent of Uganda’s immunization programs are funded by donors and nonprofit organizations. One of the organizations with the strongest impact has been the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI). They have contributed more than $300 million since 2000.
  8. Thanks to a new rotavirus vaccine, Uganda estimates 70,000 lives will be saved and over 300,000 hospital admissions may be avoided between 2016 and 2035.

After revamping its vaccination program in the early 2000s, Uganda has made significant progress in curbing the spread of disease. While there are still areas to be improved, vaccines in Uganda have saved thousands of lives thus far and have improved the health of the country.

Nicholas Dugan

Photo: Flickr

Deforestation in Uganda
Deforestation is the second highest cause of carbon emissions from human activity next to burning fossil fuels. According to the World Wildlife Foundation, on average between “46 and 58 thousand square miles of forest are lost each year—equivalent to 48 football fields every minute.” When trees are cut down, the amount of carbon dioxide being absorbed from the atmosphere decreases drastically. Efforts to curb deforestation practices in developing countries through stipends to farmers has proven to be both a cost-effective way to address climate change and provide people in rural areas an additional form of income.

From 2010 to 2013, the Innovation for Poverty Action (IPA) conducted a study surrounding deforestation in Uganda, a country with extremely high rates of such, to test the usefulness of paying farmers annually for their active conservation of forested land. According to the IPA, from 2000 to 2010 Uganda lost forest at a rate of 2.6 percent annually, the third highest rate in the world. This not only contributes to rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere but endangers animals such as chimpanzees and reduces protection from rain-forest flooding.

Taking place in areas of western Uganda, a predominantly rural zone, the IPA program targeted land owners of forested areas who decide whether or not to cut down trees to plant crops. The program entitled payments for ecosystem services (PES) “offered owners of forested land a contract under which they could receive annual payments of 70,000 Ugandan shillings (equivalent to $28) per hectare for conserving forested land,” according to the report. Owners could also receive additional payment for planting new trees on already deforested areas.

Despite the low number of landowners who agreed to the contract–only 32 percent–they earned on average an additional $113 for avoiding deforestation and planting new seeds. The program’s results found owners more actively engaged in patrolling their land as well as had a significant decrease in deforestation in Uganda. Compared to an average loss of 9.1 percent of forests in villages where the program was not enacted, villages that participated in the program lost on average 4.2 percent of their forest, a significant decrease.

The findings of the study equated to “delaying 3,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide per village from being released into the atmosphere” through curbing deforestation in Uganda. The PES program proved successful and cost-effective, having both a positive impact on reduced carbon emissions and land-owning households.

According to the World Wildlife Foundation, “1.6 billion people rely on benefits forests offer, including food, fresh water, clothing, traditional medicine and shelter.” Efforts to curb deforestation in countries like Uganda are vital for the survival of the world’s forests.

Riley Bunch

Photo: Google

Poverty in Uganda
Although Uganda is a Sub-Saharan African country with one of the highest rates of poverty reduction, the country remains among the poorest in the world. According to a 2016 poverty assessment, poverty in Uganda reduced significantly between 2006 and 2013. The number of Ugandans living below the poverty line declined from 31.1 percent in 2006 to 19.7 percent in 2013.

The issue now is the sustainability of this poverty reduction, as Uganda is lacking important non-monetary resources. These include sufficient sanitation, access to electricity, health and well-being, education and nutrition. Discussed below are the causes of poverty in Uganda and their implications.


4 Leading Causes of Poverty in Uganda


  1. Safety net programs are of limited availability in Uganda, which increases the vulnerability of households to fall back into poverty. In 2013, it was reported that only one percent of Uganda’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was spent on social security. This percentage is much lower than the 2.8 percent average for Sub-Saharan Africa. Due to this lack of social security, 35 percent of Ugandans rely on their life savings and 25 percent rely on their family. This makes falling back into poverty highly likely for a majority of people.
  2. Diseases are another cause of poverty in Uganda. Infant and child mortality rates remain high, with 131 deaths per 1,000 births. Families in Uganda are often large. With the lack of finances and resources, larger families are highly likely to fall below the poverty line. Poor health also reduces a family’s work productivity, causing poverty to be passed down through generations.
  3. Agriculture contributed to 79 percent of poverty reduction in Uganda between 2006 and 2013, but there is still much room for improvement. Though a large portion of the population earns its livelihood through agriculture, there is still an excess in labor opportunities. Further improvement in productivity of agriculture is necessary to provide more work and bring people out of poverty.
  4. Due to a high dependency on work in agriculture and the informal sector, there is a lack of skilled labor among Ugandans. Without skilled labor, it is challenging for Uganda to obtain important non-monetary resources and narrows subsistence options. This also causes a deficiency in forward mobility, which preserves poverty.

The persistence of poverty in Uganda, despite significant poverty reduction, conveys the need for further governmental assistance and global contribution. To sustain poverty reduction for developing nations, more attention to foreign aid policy is needed.

Haley Hurtt

Photo: Flickr

Helping People in UgandaWanting to help the world is noble, but it is a daunting task when so many countries and people are in need. However, choosing where to contribute can help you focus on improving individual’s lives instead of feeling overwhelmed. Helping people in Uganda, for example, feels like a much more achievable goal.

There are dozens of nonprofits dedicated to helping people in Uganda. In fact, many organizations have people whose job it is to help people decide how they are best able to aid someone half a world away.

If you’re wondering how to help people in Uganda, here are some tips:

  1. Begin by educating yourself about Uganda. What is the current state of the economy, government, major needs, etc?
  2. Research organizations already doing aid work in the country. Find out what these groups are doing and how they are doing it. There are websites and articles with lists of nonprofits in Uganda like GlobalGiving, this article from The Washington Post and the Uganda National NGO Directory.
  3. Decide what issue needs the most attention or what you are most passionate about. For example, maybe there are fewer organizations fulfilling a certain need. Perhaps you majored in nutrition and think nutritious meals should be a larger focus.
  4. Contact someone at an organization with questions on what it does and how to help.
  5. Advocate for the cause. If done correctly, others will likely be motivated to join you.

Another way you can help the people in Uganda is by contacting congressmen and encouraging protection of the International Affairs Budget31. President Trump’s administration has proposed a 31 percent cut to the State Department and USAID, both of which support development and diplomacy around the world and creates jobs in America.

You can also contact your representatives about the AGOA and MCA Modernization Act, the READ Act, Economic Growth and Development Act and many more. The Borgen Project website has information about these pieces of legislation, as well as many more.

You can stop wondering how to help people in Uganda and put this knowledge into action. Stay educated, become passionate and decide that helping people is an important step for you to take.

Emily Arnold