Upoki Bitum, pictured at far right in the red patterned shirt, second row, is a pastor and a student in the Save the Mothers Master of Public Health Leadership Program. He lives and works in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and recently took what he is learning back to his home country and held a conference for other church leaders there.
Systemic problems require systemic solutions. Save the Mothers is built on the premise that the battle for improved maternal health requires contributions from all professional disciplines.
I am a pastor, and a student of the Save the Mothers program. Recently, I organized a four-day conference for rural pastors. Attended by men and women, the conference took place in Bunia—a city in the Ituri Province of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Many of the pastors who attended lead large churches, composed mostly of women.
The purpose of the conference was to equip pastors to integrate theology with safe motherhood in order to prevent the increase of maternal mortality, encourage and promote the use of healthy behaviours, and shape the attitudes of those in their communities for healthy living.
In the DRC, the problem of maternal mortality and morbidity is significant: with a maternal mortality rate of 846 deaths per 100,000 live births, ranking the country as one of worst nations in the world for maternal death. Yet, preventing death from pregnancy complications is possible if the community boldly takes initiatives to stand against the leading causes of maternal mortality and morbidity. Commitment is needed from everyone.
After taking my first three modules in the Master of Public Health Leadership program at Save the Mothers/Uganda Christian University, I realized that it was important for me as a pastor to introduce to my fellow pastors the concept of safe motherhood, and how it can be integrated into our daily preaching in the pulpit, because the women, mothers, and girls who are dying from pregnancy-related complications are in our churches. Not talking about their health issues and problems is to do a disservice to our congregations in this time when maternal death is flooding our homes with more tears.
At the conference, I introduced my fellow pastors to the meaning of safe motherhood and what the Bible says about women. I introduced some of the causes of maternal death such as prolonged labour, severe bleeding, anaemia, abortion and eclampsia. We went further in our discussions and realized that in some tribes, subculture plays a big role in preventing women from seeking professional advice and eating nutritious food. We also realized many husbands beat their wives, leading some mothers to develop psychological problems.
We discussed everything from the heavy loads pregnant women carry on their heads and the evil of parents abandoning their unmarried pregnant daughters to the doctrine of three delays: the delay to make decision to seek health care, the delay to reach a health facility and the delay to receive treatment. We realized that some of these problems are motivated by bad cultural practices. For example, early pregnancy is supported by some subcultures in some tribes in the DRC, yet pregnant girls under 18 are at increased risk of having obstructed labour and developing obstetric fistula.
As a remedy to this cluster of problems, a proper exegesis of the biblical text will save mothers and women from these dangers. Since pastors have the ability to influence their congregations, the power of the pulpit should be used to integrate teaching about women’s health. Jesus loves women. We learned in our conference that women are also great human resources in our ministries.
Every pastor left for his church with a conviction to address the problems of women’s health, especially maternal death in the DRC.
“When a pregnant mother or girl dies, the church has lost a family and the church can be destabilized,” said pastor Jeremie. “The time has come for pastors to effectively tackle maternal mortality from the pulpit.”