Welcome to the world, S.O.U.L. Antenatal Education Center!

By Andrea Koris

S.O.U.L. Foundation Monitoring and Evaluation Officer

It’s 9:00am on Monday morning. I start down the red dirt path to the S.O.U.L. office, eyes to the ground in effort to keep my shoes reasonably dust-free. The twinkling of women’s laughter drifts through the banana trees to my ears. “What day is it?” I think to myself. As the answer hits me, I abandon my careful trek and tear off wildly towards the sound. I turn right at the sweet potato garden, scurry down the trail between the maize fields, and with a flourishing swipe of the matooke fronds in my path, I land among the most beautiful sight: 60 Ugandan women, bedecked in their brightest kitenge, patiently awaiting for the opening of the S.O.U.L. Antenatal Education Center.

Today is not just any other Monday in the sleepy town of Bujagali where S.O.U.L. is located; it is the official opening of S.O.U.L. Foundation’s Maternal Health Network. It’s a labor of love that has gestated and grown over the years. The idea of building a program to address rural maternal health issues in this region, originally conceived around a table between S.O.U.L. and community leaders, has been tended to with collaborative care ever since. And as I walk into the S.O.U.L. schoolyard this morning, wading through the women’s excited hugs and morning greetings, the love and hard work of everyone who molded the foundations of this program is abundantly evident.

In the past 5 years, substantial progress has been made across the world to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs); and while significant improvements have been made on accounts to global health and education, progress is far from sufficient in regards to global maternal and infant mortality rates. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a result demand a more exacting requirement of the global community, to reduce the global maternal mortality ratio to less than 70 per 100,000 live births by 2030.

Here in Uganda, 360 women die per 100,000 live births. And that statistic only accounts for women who decide to give birth in public health facilities. Considering that only 42% of births in Uganda are attended to by a qualified health professional, maternal morbidity statistics fall short in capturing mortality rates and health indicators for women and newborns who cannot access public care. S.O.U.L. wanted to know how this overwhelming statistic played out in the lives of the mamas that make up the lifeblood of our beneficiary communities, many of whom decide to deliver with Traditional Birthing Attendants instead of qualified midwives. To answer these questions, S.O.U.L. conducted a year long research assessment investigating the barriers that influence women’s maternal health choices and behaviors, and the challenges government health workers face in trying to provide quality care in rural settings.

The Maternal Health Network is a result of the findings of this groundbreaking research. The program houses several interventions, each of which attack a different ‘delay’ that contributes to maternal mortality in rural settings: 1) Delay in decision to seek care; 2) Delay in reaching care; and 3) Delay in receiving adequate health care at facility. The Antenatal Education Center, housed within the Maternal Health Network, aims to reduce maternal mortality by disseminating Safe Motherhood and Birth Preparedness education and encouraging male involvement in maternal health for women and their male partners.

As I follow the line of mamas into the sunny colored classroom, being pulled along in the tide of excitement, I can’t help but feel a wellspring of joy. The opportunity to walk with the women and men of this community as they invest in their right for health for themselves and their families is a gift; to witness the birth of this program, a blessing; and to be part of its creation, the highest honor.