AMREF's Outreach Program at work in Uganda - Part 2
Last month, I traveled with fellow AMREF USA board members Christine Grogan and Dr. Rodney Davis on a surgical mission to Kasese, Uganda. Dr. Ekene Enemchukwu, a resident surgeon at Vanderbilt University where Dr. Davis is a professor, is assisting him in operations this week at Kagando Mission Hospital Our visit is part of AMREF's Outreach program that transports medical teams into hospitals all over East Africa.
The maternity ward at Kagando Mission Hospital is a busy place. Despite three large rooms with beds, there are mats all along the corridors, on the floor between beds, and in the center aisles, brimming with women and babies. With their female friends and relatives there to give support, and their tiny newborns wrapped in brilliantly colored cloths, called bithenge, they all present an encouraging tableaux of progress. Even though there is a shortage of space, the fact that they are near doctors, nurses, midwives and ultrasound machines is a modern day miracle.
Maternal deaths are an epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa: every year more than a quarter of a million women attempting to have their babies--alone, or with unskilled help and miles away from a hospital--do not make it. Sometimes the babies die, too. And sometimes the mothers survive, but their bodies are destroyed by fistula, a tearing of internal organs. AMREF's Director General, Dr. Teguest Guerma, believes that saving mothers is at the heart of stabilizing health for all Africans and has taken it on as our primary initiative.
Bwambale (the name means 2nd born boy) made his entrance into the world today just as he was supposed to. We were in the room--a no-nonsense tiny space with a sheet hung to create a little privacy from the laboring mother in the next bed--at about 4PM when his mother Josinta pushed, and there he was: caught and swaddled by a midwife, essentially unscathed by the experience. No more than 20 minutes later his mother walked herself from the birthing room to their bed in the maternity ward. Her baby was handed to her and he immediately began nursing.
Bwambale was lucky enough to be born here at Kagando, lucky enough to be healthy, lucky that his mother sailed through the delivery and will return to her husband and three other children. AMREF estimates that every year 1.5 milllion African children are not so lucky. Their mothers die in labor.
Today we visited some of those children, ones with no mother or father--residents of the Nzirambi Orphans Talent Development Center, run by Kagando Hospital. Here we see children given a second chance--like 15 month old Alice Kabugho, whose mother died of delivery complications when she was 4 days old. The aunt who cares for her two sisters in a remote village could not take her in--and so she came here--her home, as aides confidently, even cheerfully report-- for the rest of her life. We find that the option, the hope of adoption is not even a part of the discussion here.
There are 84 children at the Center--including 13 babies who have arrived over the last few months, who live in the "Baby House." There are six new houses in all, neat and inviting as an American suburban neighborhood with a "senior mother" in each who oversees their care. That care is covered straight through University through donations of funders in Canada and the UK.
Of course, most African children and mothers are not so handily rescued.
These mothers, these children are the focus of AMREF's work. Our campaign Stand Up for African Mothers is meant to bring attention to the desperate conditions of Africa's mothers--and the need for health centers like Kagando (rated the 4th best in all of Uganda) where pre-natal care is provided, and where interventions like C-sections are available. In our two days here so far we have seen 8 C-sections--on track for the average of four a day.
Yesterday Marian Night was one of the mothers who delivered by C-section. Her son is in the neonatal care intensive care unit--on oxygen. We visited him today. As one of Marian's sisters sat beside his tiny bed, a nurse said his condition was only "fair." But because Marian delivered in a hospital, his chances are immeasurably better than they would have been.
Maureen Rose is an 18 year old we met in the fistula ward at Kagando. She was in labor for two days in May waiting for transportation to a birthing center. She lost her son and in those two days was rendered incontinent. The surgery here in Kagando's special fistula unit will restore her body, but perhaps not her life.
Our visit here is part of AMREF's Outreach program in which we bring physicians and experts into hospitals in more than six countries, including Uganda, for week long intensives. But we also have a Ugandan country office, and through it many programs in this country, spending $7 to $8 million dollars a year (by comparison, we invest $25 million in Kenya and $15 million in Tanzania)--working in HIV, malaria and TB, water, sanitation, education of children in cleanliness, among other areas.
While Drs Davis and Enemchukwu are performing urological surgeries on this outreach, AMREF has previously provided technical assistance to Kagando: Rev. Benson Baguma, who runs the hospital, profusely thanked AMREF today for a technician who came and repaired the hospital's X-ray machine. It had been broken down for six months.
AMREF (The African Medical & Research Foundation) is the largest African health organization on the continent. Based in Nairobi and global in scope, it works in some 35 African countries and has offices in twelve countries, including the United States. Winner of the Bill and Melinda Gates Award for Global Health and the Conrad Hilton Humanitarian Prize. www.amrefusa.org