8 Dec. 2011
The following was written by Francoise Riisa Kauzya, the Executive Director of ARH and details her reasons for starting our organization.
I’m an advocate for maternal health, a cause to which I am very committed. That so many pregnant women die under conditions that could otherwise be prevented is of grave concern to me, and I am very focused on contributing to the improvement of maternal and reproductive health in rural Uganda. As such:
With 16 mothers dying in childbirth every day in Uganda, I am a voice for the 430 mothers out of 100,000 who die giving birth1. I am the voice for the 76 children out of every 1,000 who die as infants2. I speak for the 130,000 to 405,000 women and girls who will suffer from disabilities caused by complications during pregnancy and childbirth each year3. Yes, I will serve as the champion for each of the single woman in 4,000 in developed countries at risk of dying4.
I am a simple person trying to make a difference. Yet I can only achieve this if more people, like you, join me. I believe in working together. I also believe that significant progress in addressing issues of maternal health will only be realized through joint effort. It will take vigorous effort from many people, including the communities and the families of these mothers, to achieve long-lasting improvements.
It is one thing to read about mothers dying in childbirth or the high maternal mortality rate reports; it is something else to witness in person a dying mother. It is most devastating and can severely affect any care provider who experiences this tragedy. It engenders a deep feeling of helpless, as the care providers suffer from lack of treatment materials and medicine, and are therefore unable to do anything to prevent the death of the mother.
Advocacy for maternal health is a big part of who I’m. Many people are born in labor ward; I literally grow up in one. And that shaped my passion, commitment and drives me to search for solutions to stop causes of the preventable maternal death.
A mother’s daughter
My mother was a private practicing midwife conducting an antenatal clinic, managing deliveries and treating simple diseases in our home. Living in the remote area of Rugaga-Isingiro in western Uganda, the only place mothers could deliver their babies was either in their homes or ours. The only available transportation to the nearest hospital was a bus and two taxis leaving in the morning to 7.30am and would be back after 6.30pm.
If a mother had difficult labor after 7.30am in the morning, there would be great trouble in trying to get her to the hospital. The morning transportation having departed, many distressed mothers would rush to our house after trying unsuccessfully to give birth from their own homes. The great majority of these mothers did not have enough money to go to the hospital, while others still had been pressured by relatives to give birth at home with statements like “if your mother could give birth at home, then you too should be fine.“
Unfortunately we still have the same problem in many areas of the country. There is still poverty in many families, transportation is still a major hurdle to some and the health seeking behavior and attitude is still the same in many communities. By some measures, it is no wonder that we still loose16 mothers every day due to childbirth.
Many of the babies born of mothers who arrived at our house late in their labor were very tired. Seeing my mother resuscitate these babies, made me want to do something about it. I stood by her, cried, prayed and pleaded with her to perform some kind of miracle. If my mother’s efforts were unsuccessful and the baby died – and there were certainly a number of such sad instances — I spent the following days wondering why it had to happen. I did not witness the death of any of the mothers in my home, perhaps because my mother took them to hospital; but I know of some who died after childbirth in their homes or in the hospital.
As a child, I recall my mother questioning relatives of the pregnant mother as to why the mother was never before brought to the antenatal clinic and why her family had waited so long to bring her for medical attention. I asked these same questions during my 15 years as a nurse on a labor ward in the Mulago Hospital, which is the national hospital of Uganda. Today the same questions are asked despite improvement in health sector.
Tackling the problems of today
I’m aware many health professionals have been working hard to find answers, and that many improvements have been realized, but the gap is still very wide.
While the organization was founded by four people, it must be owned and managed by our grass root members. Most of those ‘owners’ are men, which very much follows our mission. I feel blessed to have my husband joining me to co-found ARH and to have other health professionals with the same passion to be part of this noble cause.
Our approach is family friendly. On top of reducing maternal mortality rate and neonatal mortality rate, we hope to achieve strengthened family ties through better family communication and health decision-making, and to reduce domestic violence as well as improving men’s health.
Our immediate goals and needs
ARH will continue to conduct training programs to empower local communities to handle their maternal health. We will work to acquire medical instruments used in maternal health. We will continue to be a voice raising awareness about this pressing need.
As a small non-profit, ARH has many needs. Perhaps our most pressing needs are twofold: (1) medical supplies to stock the rural antenatal clinics in Uganda and (2) contacts that want to help ARH raise awareness. If you are interested in learning more about ARH and how you can help, I invite you to get in touch.
1 CIA World Factbook (2008): https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/docs/notesanddefs.html#2091
2 United Nations Development Programme (2008): http://allafrica.com/stories/200806020467.html