A partnership between three Rotary organizations on two continents is nearing completion.
The project, Healthcare Education and Rapid Transportation (HEaRT), is a partnership between Mount Airy Rotary Club, Rotary Club of Kitgum, Uganda, and Rotary District 6110, Oklahoma, to improve maternal and child health in Northern Uganda.
“I always knew I’d work in Africa. When I got there, it all just fit together,” said Nancy Dixon, a member of Mount Airy Rotary and designer of the project.
“When I retired, I asked myself, ‘what do I want to do now?’ I thought about going into the Peace Corps,” said Dixon.
Things took a turn when Dixon talked about her plans with Marion Goldwasser, who had gone into the Peace Corps after college but was at the time pursuing a project with Rotary in Uganda to address clean water issues.
Dixon traveled to Uganda in 2013 and learned that only 80 percent of babies born in Northern Uganda make it to age one and asked herself, “Can I just walk away from this?”
No, she couldn’t walk away, and she made it her mission to learn more about why the survival rate was so abysmal and what could be done about it.
It was important to Dixon that the project be designed with input, cooperation and support from local leaders and stakeholders because only then would the project and solutions be sustainable.
Orom, a sub-county of the Kitgum District in northernmost Uganda near the Sudan border provided the perfect place.
“The community leaders didn’t want us to come in and do everything. They wanted to take ownership. That was key to us,” said Dixon. “They wanted to take care of themselves. They just needed a little help getting started.”
Community Leaders Workshops, meetings with existing Health Unit Management Committees and Traditional Birthing Attendants identified problems with the area’s current healthcare system and what solutions would be supported going forward.
The high infant death rate was attributed to three delays: the delay in the mother deciding to utilize a health facility for obstetric treatment; the delay in deciding to go to the health facility when active labor began; and the delay in receiving appropriate level/appropriately equipped/adequately skilled care after reaching the health facility.
To address these needs, a Maternity Waiting Home has been built in the area where women about to give birth can go to await labor. The area is so remote that waiting until labor begins to seek treatment is usually too late. Traditional birthing attendants have been provided with basic diagnostic equipment, stethoscopes and blood pressure cuffs, and trained in their use so they can refer high-risk pregnancies to a higher level of care. They are now called traditional birthing referral agents to reflect their more advanced skills.
Dixon was in Uganda in February and March of 2017, and again from July until September working on getting the project underway.
“My husband (Dr. David Dixon) is still working, so he could only come over for a couple of weeks at a time.”
Dr. Dixon trained local caregivers and instructed them in use of their new medical equipment.
The project is due to be finished in April 2019, and when that happens, Orom will have in place an improved referral chain, access for women to prenatal care, public education on prenatal care and emergency care, disease prevention, sanitation and hygiene, a maternity waiting home, improved health centers and an integrated, self-sustaining emergency transportation system which will include three motorcycle ambulances and a refurbished Jeep.
“I fell in love with these people because of how independent they are,” said Dixon.
“My mother always wanted to be a missionary to Africa,” said Dixon. “She said she wanted to go with me sometime, but she died two weeks before I left.”
Orom’s new Maternity Waiting Home will be called “Beverly’s Home” after Dixon’s mother, when it is completed later this month.
“That’s as it should be,” she said.
Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699.