Uganda Refugee Crisis: “There’s just not enough hospital beds for all these mothers”

Uganda Refugee Crisis: “There’s just not enough hospital beds for all these mothers”

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At Ocea Health Center in the Rhino refugee settlement in Uganda, four mothers cradle their newborn babies having just given birth mere hours earlier. They each have the glow of a new mother, as they gaze at their babies with love, but also the underlying fear of returning “home” with this new person to care for and feed. 

After spending all night assisting in the delivery of these babies, Grace, the midwife trained and supported by CARE, returns to the delivery ward after fitting in a few hours of precious sleep. Grace’s love for her job helps her fight fatigue as she helps the new mothers prepare to go home with their babies. Each mother goes home with a CARE dignity kit that will provide essential items they need to care for their baby.

“We have at least six to seven women coming to the clinic each day to delivery their babies, but we have only four beds in the ward,” Grace says. “We have to make this room available for the mothers who will come to the clinic in labor today. There’s just not enough beds to service all the mothers in need.”

CARE health workers educate pregnant refugees on the importance of going to the clinic for antenatal services, delivery of their baby and postnatal services. The distribution of the dignity kits helps attract more mothers to deliver at the clinic, which is safer for the mother and the baby. Grace helps deliver around 450 babies each month, and the numbers of pregnant women and those with medical complications has risen significantly with the influx of refugees from South Sudan.

“With the grueling journey to Uganda, many of the mothers from South Sudan come to the clinic with medical complications. They arrive malnourished, and may deliver a malnourished baby,” Grace says. “It is also very common to see mothers as young as 14 years old who are unable to deliver naturally and must be sent to Arua to have a C-section.”

One of the mothers Grace is caring for today is 26-year-old Mary, who arrived in Uganda from South Sudan only two weeks ago. Looking at Mary’s gaunt face, Grace can see that she is severely malnourished.

“I know all of the other three mothers because they’ve been coming to the clinic regularly for their antenatal care, but this is the first time I’m seeing Mary. She is obviously sick, but was okay during the delivery and it is very fortunate that her baby is fine,” Grace says.

Mary shared with Grace that she had not seen a doctor at all during her pregnancy. She traveled to Uganda by foot for several weeks at the end of her pregnancy. While traveling, she experienced spells of dizziness and loss of appetite. She was only drinking water, and occasionally eating porridge when it was available.

Grace shares with Mary, “You will need to get on a feeding program where you come weekly to the clinic to receive nutritional supplements that will restore your health so you can breastfeed without problems.”

After sending the new mothers with their dignity kits to their shelter in the refugee settlement that they now call “home”, Grace walks to another large tent to check on several pregnant women who are being treated for malaria and another mother is going into labor. This tent was recently added to the clinic, as there is just not enough room for all the patients. Grace prepares for another busy night, as she knows a few more mothers will arrive at the clinic in labor. They always come at night.  

Mary cradles her new baby at the Rhino refugee settlement in Uganda. She was so malnourished from walking to Uganda that she could not nurse her child. CREDIT: Peter Caton/CARE