They joyfully and freely support expectant women. It is akin to giving a sisterly hand. Forty women are engaged in these services. One of them is Cecilia Auma, 55, who has been promoting safe women delivery for the last five years in Kyangwali Refugee Settlement, Uganda. She is elated and full of satisfaction for these services, and the support she has given to over 2000 women, in a period spanning close to 30 years.
“I have been working as a Traditional Birth Attendant (TBA) for close to 30 years, and as a safe motherhood promoter five 30 years,” says Auma, a South Sudanese mother of ten, who came to Kyangwali in 2001. She adds: “I have been teaching women on safe motherhood and I have even escorted some of them to hospitals to give birth.”
Another motherhood promoter, Sarafina Nyirabazungu, 49, has been offering the services for the last 16 years. The mother of nine has been encouraging women to visit qualified health providers at least four times during their pregnancy. Nyirabazungu uses the skills she has received to convince the expectant women.
“Sister Joan has taught us a lot and we are willing to share with our fellow women so that they can also raise healthy children,” says Nyirabazungu, in reference to Joan Omoting, a Primary Health Care (PHC) Officer for AAH Uganda in Kyangwali.
Omoting says both Cecilia and Sarafina are qualified TBAs, though they had to stop after the government of Uganda outlawed TBAs, in 2010. The government argued that they were not knowledgeable to prevent Mother-to-child HIV/AIDs transmission. “We decided to bring them on board as safe delivery community champions popularly known as safe motherhood promoters,” she explains. The women are provided with training on family planning, antenatal care, safe motherhood and danger signs; child spacing and immunisation. “After the training we commission them to be both community educators and also the first contact point between the women and the health care facilities.”
Men are also involved in the reproductive health. Masudi Busimba, 73, who hails from the Democratic Republic of Congo and is a father of 15, is one of them. “I teach out of experience and passion for women issues. I focus on men. Through the community training, I urge men to also get involved in reproductive health issues,” says Busimba, who came to Kyangwali in 2009 after fleeing from his country in 2002, due to war.
He says he understands the challenges of a having a big family. “I recently underwent a vasectomy. “It (undergoing vasectomy) is enough proof that men can also support our women on family planning issues,” he argues.
The safe motherhood promoters have drastically reduced child mortality, as a result of their campaigns. However, they face a number of challenges. For example, they lack portable testing kits, gum bots and rain coats. In addition, poor road network affects their movements when it rains.