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UNFPA Ambulance support – saving expectant mothers' lives

It was May 30, 2020 at around 11.00 am when 19-year-old Gloria Atyero developed lower abdominal pain. She suspected the pain could be related to her pregnancy and knew it was time to travel to the health centre to deliver her baby. But again, this seemed so sudden because the midwife had confirmed that she would deliver in two months.

With a lot of pending housework on her mind, Ms. Atyero decided to wait until her husband Abdu returned home. When Abdu arrived, he arranged to escort his pregnant wife to Paidha HC III. He had been preparing for this moment for months. So together, they left in the dark amid a curfew set up as a COVID-19 prevention measure.

"I was so sure that even with the lockdown, I would not find challenges getting to Paidha health centre III because I live nearby. This is also where I was going for my antenatal visits,” Ms. Atyero said.

However, on arrival at Paidha HCIII, on further examination, Atyeno was found in early labour and that much to her surprise, was told that she was carrying twins, but they lay in unusual positions that could endanger her life.

"The health worker found out that the twins lay in wrong positions so I needed an urgent referral to Nyapea Hospital,” said Ms. Atyero.

But Nyapea hospital was 8 kilometers away. So the midwife suggested they called an ambulance to transport Ms. Atyero for emergency care.

"When the midwife called the ambulance, it arrived immediately and I was taken to Nyapea hospital in good time and successfully delivered by a caesarean operation. I now have two bouncing baby boys, Hassan and Hussein, thanks to the UNFPA ambulance," Ms. Atyero said.

According to UNFPA, in emergencies, every one in five women of reproductive age is likely to be pregnant. Circumstances like unexpected birth complications may cause one to require timely emergency skilled care to save the life of mother and baby.

In many areas in the refugee-hosting West Nile region, the terrain makes accessibility difficult especially for pregnant women getting to the health centre, often endangering their health and their babies.

With support from The Embassy of the Kingdom of The Netherlands in Uganda and collaborative efforts with the Government of Uganda, despite the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, UNFPA continues to sustain the focus on ensuring access to sexual and reproductive health and rights including maternal health is not interrupted.

During the COVID-19 lockdown, all districts in West Nile were provided with fuel for ambulance referral for all women and girls to access sexual reproductive health service, maternal health care and for the response to gender-based violence care. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 response, 3,643 pregnant women have been referred for emergency obstetric care using this strengthened UNFPA ambulance system.

Dr Jammy Omara of Nyapea Hospital commended the UNFPA support through the ambulance services that have responded swiftly to save mothers and their babies amid COVID-19 pandemic.

He said that statistics indicate that 38 percent of the maternal deaths registered between January and March 2020 in Madi-Okollo district were teenage mothers. These are more at risk of pregnancy complications given their age, weak financial status and decision making dependency.

"We are now using the ambulance support from UNFPA to pick mothers that have been referred, to conduct integrated antenatal outreaches and to follow up postnatal mothers in their homes. And right now Ms. Atyero and her spouse have already agreed to make proper use of contraceptives for family planning," said Dr. Omara.

-Story by Bernadette Sebaduka