By Lilian Ntege
Maternal health refers to the health of a woman before and during pregnancy, at childbirth and the period afterwards.
In Uganda, maternal health still remains a great challenge.
A recent report by the Ministry of Health on reproductive and child health, reveals that, though on a reducing trend, maternal mortality ratio remains unacceptably high.
According to the report, at least 336 mothers per 100,000 live births die.
The three major causes of institutional maternal deaths recorded in the report include: haemorrhage, abortion complications and hypersensitive disorders.
While some women will open up about the struggles they go through during childbearing, others, due to fear or lack of information and sensitisation, suffer silently.
In in June 2018, 32-year-old Harriet Kobusingye suffered a stillbirth. Kobusingye says the pain she went through was ‘something unexplainable’.
“Everyone I tried talking to for comfort at that time did not seem to understand me. They could just tell me to be strong because at least I had another child,” she says.
To Kobusingye, all those people were downplaying her pain. Feeling she was not being understood, Kobusingye decided to change her environment for a while.
She travelled to Dubai. While there, she shared her pain with a stranger who understood her.
That conversation turned out to be the bedrock healing process.
She says it took her one year to heal completely, though she still gets sad whenever she recalls the trauma.
To Kobusingye, the trauma of losing a child is best understood by those who have been through the pain.
She describes it as a mixture of stress, regret, anger, blame, pain, and sadness; often leading to depression. In extreme cases, some people become suicidal.
Kobusingye’s journey was harsh, but giving birth to another child made the healing process quicker.
Starting the foundation
The painful experience of losigng a child became an inspiration for Kobusingye to start Kayden International Foundation, an organisation providing maternal and reproductive health services to women.
Located in Kyebando, a Kampala suburb, the organisation also conducts outreaches in different parts of Kampala.
“I started Kayden with the aim of comforting mothers who get maternal health problems, have no one to talk to and endure their pain alone,” Kobusingye says.
The foundation does not only focus on women. It also serves teenage girls.
They sensitize the women and girls, and provide them with comprehensive sex education, reproductive health, family planning, childbirth, sexual abuse, human rights and body language.
To the teenage girls, they emphasise the importance of abstinence to avoid early pregnancies and its outcomes.
“We also carry out counselling sessions for victims of rape and those who got pregnant while at an early age,” Kobusingye says, “For the women who have lost their babies, we offer counselling services to help them heal”.
She says their services are also directed at reducing stigma in society.
“Women who suffer with and during childbearing are misunderstood by society. Also, the girls who get pregnant at an early age go through a lot. So, we help them deal with the stigma,” she says.
There is also a programme for single mothers who are given entrepreneurial training in order to financially empower them.
These are given a six-month skills training. The beneficiaries pay Shs 20,000 as participation fee.
“We get everything for them, from sewing machines, materials, space and go ahead to follow up on them after completion,” Kobusingye says.
Kobusingye says they have trained and equipped over 50 women with tailoring skills. These now earn money to take care of their families.
Eighteen-year-old Shamira Namwase, who receives counselling services from the foundation, says she was at the verge of terminating her pregnancy before meeting a team from Kayden.
“At first, I even feared to tell them because they found when I was extremely depressed. They encouraged me, preached the Gospel and also counselled me. Here I am with my baby,” Namwase says.
Regardless of the limited resources that at times hinder their operation, Kobusingye plans to build a maternal centre where women can have free antenatal sessions.
They also plan to extend their services to different parts of the country.
Kobusingye advises women faced with maternal health-related issues to always seek help in order to avoid negative implications of such experiences, especially to their mental health.