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Uganda: making life easier for expectant mothers

14-04-2010 Feature

Lugore Health Centre, located in Gulu district, is one of 14 centres in the Acholi sub-region of northern Uganda that have been supported by the ICRC. As the ICRC’s David Otto Labeja reports, the centre is making life easier for expectant mothers.

 
   
©ICRC/P. Yazdi/ug-e-00285 
 
At a health centre similar to Lugore, in Pader district. The prospect of safe delivery and the 'mama kit' donated by the ICRC convinced this woman to have her baby at a health centre for the first time (this is her third child). 
     
   
©ICRC/P. Yazdi/ug-e-00278 
 
Omot health centre in Pader district. Weighing and vaccination day at one of the fourteen health structures supported by the ICRC in northern Uganda 
     
   
©ICRC/P. Yazdi/ug-e-00275 
 
Omot health centre, Pader district. One of the 14 health centres in northern Uganda supported by the ICRC. Since this photo was taken, the ICRC has added a 4-room maternity block, new latrines and a placenta pit to enhance the capacity of the centre. In addition, new staff quarters now host four families. 
     
  

In 2005, 65-year-old Elizabeth Arach helped her daughter-in-law deliver her first child in a poorly lit grass-thatched hut in Karuma, Masindi district in western Uganda. Two years later Mrs Arach and her family were displaced by the Lord's Resistance Army from their home in Abalokodi village, Palaro sub-county, Gulu district.

 Safe delivery only an hour away  

According to Mrs Arach, even if she had not been displaced, she would have had to walk 11 kilometres to Awach, the nearest health centre that could deliver babies at the time. " But today, I walk for only one hour to receive medical attention in Lugore Health Centre, " she said as she awaited news of the delivery of her second grandchild in the centre’s maternity wing. Through tears of joy, Mrs Arach said, " I have confidence in this health centre because the traditional birth attendants are experienced and the nurses are really professional. "

The initial three-room structure was built in 2005 and used for storage, for prescribing and dispensing medicines, and for housing staff. The ICRC began supporting the health centre in 2007, upgrading the existing structure and building a new in-patient ward, a separate waiting hut, staff quarters for four families, and a waste-disposal system. A fence was put up around the centre and a well was drilled to supply water.

The ICRC also began to supply drugs and train medical personnel on a regular basis. Responsibility for the facility was handed over to the Ministry of Health in 2009. Meanwhile the ICRC continues to support 11 other health-care centres in the region.

 Record number of women are coming to the centre to give birth  

Jovana Ajok, the nurse in charge of the Lugore Health Centre, says the number of people seeking medical attention there is increasing. The centre sometimes delivers more than ten babies a week – a higher number than some more sophisticated facilities in the area. Even though the government recommends that women give birth in more advanced centres, Ms Ajok says that the improvements made to Lugore give it a unique appeal.

" When we implemented our reproductive health programme in Lugore, a huge number of women began giving birth there, " said Florence Aneko Ogwang, a senior health officer with the ICRC. " So Dr Paul Onek, the district health officer, approved construction of an extra room to ease the shortage of bed space. "

 'Mama kits' are a hit  

Ms Ogwang attributes the increased number of deliveries at Lugore to the professionalism of the medical staff and to a motivated group of traditional birth attendants who encourage women to give birth there.

The ICRC continues to support the centre with necessary supplies, including drugs, mosquito nets and ‘mama kits’, and this encourages pregnant women to visit the centre. They are each given a mama kit, which contains a baby towel, a baby sling (kanga) for the mother, sanitary towels, razors, umbilical cord ligatures, gloves, soap, a plastic sheet for the delivery bed, cotton and eye ointment.

 Health awareness campaigns helping to draw people in need to the medical centres  

According to the health centre's statistics, around 850 people seek medical attention there every month, compared with 500 per month in 2007. Ms Ajok says the ICRC has also helped organize and train people to run health-awareness campaigns. As a result, many displaced people returning to their villages of origin now know the importance of taking expectant mothers and other people requiring medical attention to a health centre.

Chris Owen Okoya, the district councillor for Palaro sub-county, says that the ICRC's support has helped bridge a gap in the health sector: " We have caught up with the rest of the country in terms of health services, and the community is happy with the results of the ICRC's programme. "