Pictured above: Dr. Eve Nakabembe, Director of the Save the Mothers Mother Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative, stands in the stores room at Uganda’s Mityana Hospital.
During the late summer of 2017, STM program intern Jess Huston was part of a small team appointed to deliver important medications to Ugandan health facilities. Following is her reflection on her experience.
I was on assignment – with Dr. Eve Nakabembe (Director of the Save the Mothers Mother Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative) and a small team from the Ugandan Ministry of Health – to deliver supplies of the drug Misoprostol to hospitals throughout the country. This drug – inexpensive, seemingly accessible, and plentiful in North America – is responsible for saving the lives of thousands of women each year who experience post-partum hemorrhage in childbirth. It works to quickly and effectively stop bleeding, and can mean the difference between certain death and a happy new mother.
We were tasked with delivering 10 boxes of this life-saving drug to some of the Mother Baby Friendly Hospitals with which Save the Mothers works. Our first stop of the day was Mityana Hospital. Located a three-hour drive from Mukono (where Save the Mothers is based), this hospital was reconstructed and expanded by one of our first Master of Public Health Leadership graduates – the Honourable Sylvia Ssinabulya.
Reaching the hospital, we prepared for a short time of training with the midwives and nurses – offering them a refresher on how and when to use the drug most effectively. Entering the Maternity Ward however, the midwives had a slightly different plan for our visit, introducing us to newborn quadruplets and their parents. The babies’ mother was in a private room recovering from a Caesarian-section, and also from having experienced the very thing our visit was designed to prevent – a post-partum hemorrhage. She remained very anemic, having been given some blood (the hospital could not afford to give her more, as their blood supply was low), and weak from her surgery and low blood pressure: but she was alive.
We were thankful to the midwives who had already proven their skill at administering misoprostol – and the delivery of drugs was desperately needed at this location. As we entered the stores, it became clear how timely our delivery was. The shelves of the hospital stores were well organized: labeled, and familiar to the administrators who work there. Yet many of the shelves were empty. In a section labeled Gloves there was only one box – with room for 50 times that amount, and a need even greater still. The situation on the shelf labelled Sutures was the same. Gloves and sutures are two of the most important resources for a maternity ward. Similarly, only one box of Misoprostol remained. One box of the very drug that saved the mother of quadruplets just 24 hours earlier. The hospital did not know that we were bringing this drug. They had neither made room for it, nor held off ordering it until we arrived. They would simply and quickly have run out, unsure of when the next delivery would come.
The timing of our delivery was striking, yet it is a story with which East Africans are sadly only too familiar. A simple, inexpensive drug is the means of saving lives. It was delivered by our team that day, yet it is missing when desperately needed on so many other days.