Uganda: A midwife on a mission

Uganda: A midwife on a mission

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Mary grabs her notebook and maternal health education booklet and walks towards one of the large tents in the Imvepi refugee reception center that houses dozens of new female refugees arriving in Uganda from the South Sudan border.

At Imvepi's reception center, new refugees are registered as refugees with the government of Uganda. Here they get health screenings, food, clean water and are assigned a plot of land with materials to build their own temporary shelter. Typically, new refugees stay at the reception center for a few days in large tents split up between males and females. Then they are taken to their assigned land to start rebuilding their lives.

On average, 2,000 new refugees are registered every day. The majority are from South Sudan, due to a civil war there that has been raging since 2013. Ever since the war spread to the southern part of the country in July 2016, Uganda has seen a massive influx of about 600,000 refugees from South Sudan. Nearly 86 percent of the 900,000 South Sudanese refugees in Uganda are women and children, many of them pregnant women.

Mary is a midwife working at the refugee reception center with support from CARE. Mary helps identify pregnant refugees who need maternal health services. She enters one of the tents where the new female arrivals are temporarily staying, and it doesn’t take her long to find several pregnant women. She starts telling the women that she has information to share with them about accessing health services for them and their unborn babies. Before long, Mary is surrounded by about 25 breastfeeding and pregnant mothers.

“How many of you have seen a doctor during your pregnancy?” asks Mary. Only a few hands go up, and Mary proceeds to use her health education booklet to educate the women on the stages of their pregnancies, common medical complications they could be experiencing, why it’s important to get antenatal care and how they can access antenatal services.

One of the women Mary meets is 21-year-old Esther who is eight months pregnant and has not seen a doctor. She is experiencing abdominal pain and vaginal bleeding after walking through the bush for two weeks to get to Uganda from South Sudan. Esther also appears to be suffering from psychological trauma after being separated from her children and her husband. 

Mary comforts Esther, while taking down her information to get her to the health clinic as soon as possible. “Esther is in a bad way. The vaginal bleeding she is having tells me she has malaria, which is common. But she is suffering major trauma that needs more than just physical medical care,” Mary says.

When Mary meets these pregnant women, they have many questions for her. Like 23-year-old Sieda, who has also been experiencing vaginal bleeding due to malaria. “I’m worried because I haven’t felt my baby playing in my womb in a while. I have no relatives with me, so who can help me deliver my baby?” Sieda aks.

Mary tells Sieda that there is a clinic in the settlement supported by CARE where a professional midwife will help safely deliver her baby. She helps Sieda understand that delivering her baby at the health clinic is the best way to ensure that both she and her new baby are healthy and cared for.

“Thanks to such programs, despite large numbers of pregnant refugee women arriving daily, maternal and infant mortality rates have thankfully been very low,” Mary says.

Every day, Mary searches the reception center for new pregnant women who need health services. In the first two weeks of May, she helped get 70 pregnant women into antenatal care. As she finishes answering all the women’s questions and taking down their information, she exits their tent and starts walking towards the next one, saying, “There are so many moms who have been on the move with no antenatal care. We need more health workers to meet all these needs.”

Mary is a midwife working for CARE at the Imvepi Reception Centre where around 2,000 refugee's enter each day from South Sudan. Mary is responible for about 70 new mothers and their babies every week. CREDIT: Peter Caton/CARE