S.O.U.L.’s Maternal Health Network for Rural and Vulnerable Women

By Lauren Rogers-Bell

S.O.U.L. Foundation Maternal Health Program & Impact Manager

I first learned about S.O.U.L. Foundation earlier this year when I was searching for maternal health jobs in Uganda. When I came across the posting for a Maternal Health Program Manager, I just knew I had to work for this organization. What struck me the most about S.O.U.L. was the thoughtfulness that had gone into the development of the maternal health program, specifically the focus on the Three Delays Model.

As a maternal health professional, specifically focused on the reduction of maternal mortality, the Three Delays Model is the foundation of how I would ideally approach every project. This model highlights the three different points in obtaining health care where delays contribute to maternal mortality: the delay in seeking care, the delay in accessing care, and the delay in receiving appropriate treatment.

S.O.U.L.'s maternal health program has three stages that mirror these three delays. The first stage of S.O.U.L.'s Maternal Health Network (MHN) involves the development of the Antenatal Education Center (AEC) and training of Village Health Teams (VHTs) on community maternal health education for women and men. The second stage involves utilizing SMS messages to dispatch motorcycle taxis to take pregnant women to the hospital in the event of complications or the onset of labor. And the third stage involves the development of a local birthing center to bring quality care to the community level.

From the first day that I arrived at S.O.U.L., what I have found most impressive is the organizational commitment to maternal health. For Brooke and the Board of Directors, this is not a side project. This is the heart.

Maternal health has been my passion since my labor and delivery rotation in nursing school. I have worked as a doula, a midwife, and now as a global maternal health professional. When women are pregnant, they are at their most delicate. They are more vulnerable in this state than most men will ever be. The following story told to one of our Global Health Corps Fellows, Precious, in April 2016, highlights this vulnerability. It was relayed to Precious by a 34 year old mother of three living in Bujagali Village:

“The Village Health Team worker in my village had told me on several occasions that I was with child but I repeatedly denied it, because I didn’t think I was. I finally found out that I was pregnant when I was 6 months along and went to the hospital for treatment. I started attending antenatal visits at the Health Center IV in Budondo, but after the 2nd visit, I refused to go back because the midwife asked me to go for an ultrasound, for which I didn’t have money.
I stayed home unaware of when I would deliver or what was happening to my baby. Honestly, I never even thought about it. I was by myself that night when I went into labor. I was in so much pain that I couldn’t move out of the house to call for help. I had no money, phone or anything to use while delivering. I felt so much pressure on my belly; little did I know that the baby was coming. I delivered in the house on my bed and wrapped the baby in my bedding after cutting the cord. The next morning, I crawled out of the house and called my neighbor who rushed me to the hospital. By the time we got there, it was too late. The baby died a couple of minutes later and the nurses insulted me because I had cut the baby’s cord too short and left it untied. If only I had prepared well, attended all my antenatal visits and listened to the VHT, my baby wouldn’t have died in my arms.”

All women want to be able to do is safely deliver their children and have adequate knowledge to care for their newborns. This is not too much to ask for, and at S.O.U.L. Foundation we strive to provide them with just that. I enjoy maternal health because it allows me to educate, assist, and empower the most vulnerable women while they are in their most fragile state. I have found nothing more rewarding than helping a mother through her first delivery or showing a first-time mom how to breastfeed.

Sophie, our local midwife and health educator, teaches the AEC classes in Lusoga, the local language. She is animated and the women trust her to answer their most personal and potentially embarrassing questions free from judgement. This is so important, especially in dispelling the many myths surrounding maternal and newborn care. I first observed Sophie's class during my orientation with S.O.U.L. and I could not believe the types of questions the students were asking her. In Uganda, people are typically even less willing to show that they do not know something than in the United States, where I am from. They are usually afraid of being shamed publicly for their ignorance. However, the rapport Sophie has built with the local community is astounding and it appears to be yet another testament to S.O.U.L.'s invaluable work in Uganda.