We are happy to publish our third interview in our Maternal Health Heroes Summer Series with Dr. Jean Chamberlain Froese, Founder and Executive Director of Save the Mothers. Throughout the summer we will speak with some of the most notable maternal health advocates in the world ahead of the Global Maternal Newborn Health Conference that will be held in Mexico City between October 18 – 21, 2015. Follow the conversation at #MHHSS.
The morning I spoke to Dr. Jean Chamberlain Froese she had just come off of a late shift delivering babies at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Hamilton, Ontario. Two of the expectant mothers in her care during the night were African. One expectant mother hemorrhaged directly after delivery and the other who had undergone female genital mutilation (FGM) needed it to be wholly reversed before she could deliver her baby. Dr. Chamberlain Froese was able to successfully reverse the FGM and saved both mothers’ and babies’ lives during delivery.
Just another day at the office.
Given each of the mothers’ obstetric complications if they still lived in Africa, the probability is they would not have survived their deliveries. In fact, 800 women around the world, particularly those who live in low- and middle-income countries, die every day during childbirth from largely preventable causes like postpartum hemorrhaging or obstructed labor. In Canada, both women survived and delivered healthy newborns. In Africa, that likely would not have been the case. After caring for these women, the lingering question arose again for Chamberlain Froese: Why is it that women who deliver in the West are more valuable than other mothers?
That question has driven Dr. Chamberlain Froese to work towards saving the lives of mothers around the world especially in Uganda where Save the Mothers, the nonprofit organization she founded in 2005, strives to save mothers’ lives and where she and her family live eight months out of the year.
Save the Mothers was established after Chamberlain Froese noticed a constant contrast between the way in which mothers are treated in developed countries versus developing countries. “I became frustrated because I saw government officials who saw women dying every day in their districts,” said Chamberlain Froese. “I thought, that doesn’t seem important to you?’
While some officials turned a blind eye to the maternal mortality crisis in their backyards others tackled it head-on like an official Chamberlain Froese met named Ivan. He was the leader of 50,000 people and in his district a hydroelectric dam was being built. He went to the dam builders to get money for his people and used it to build clean maternity centers even equipped with ultrasounds. “He prioritized safe motherhood,” Chamberlain Froese recalled. “By training local people comes long-term sustainability.”
Save the Mothers, through its Masters in Public Health Leadership program housed at Uganda Christian University in Mukono, equips its students with the knowledge and skills to reduce maternal mortality in their profession. The decade-old program is not relegated to health workers only, but is instead open to anyone — from politicians, to lawyers, to social workers — who can effectively reduce the numbers of maternal deaths in their specific discipline.
Save the Mothers also has a robust Mother Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative (MBFHI) where they place graduates of their leadership program in east African hospitals. MBHFI allows Save the Mothers to improve overall hospital care for mothers and their newborns. The graduates work with hospital administrators to help boost morale and improve the standard of care, so mothers who do come to the hospital to deliver, especially those with life-threatening problems, can survive childbirth.
Now, Save the Mothers is eyeing Nigeria and Haiti where they can replicate the maternal health successes they have experienced in Uganda. It is just a matter of funding to get underway.
Chamberlain Froese is a staunch advocate of training locals, particularly health workers, to reduce maternal mortality and provide respectful care. “Health workers need to feel like they are important,” she said. “Midwives are humans, too,” she continued. “They need to be paid on time. Midwives are sometimes on call for weeks at a time. I’ve seen midwives slap patients, but we can change attitudes through mentoring,”
Chamberlain Froese has been striving to save mothers lives for over twenty years. She remembers a time when it was difficult to receive a mere $1000 for maternal health programs. “The international focus on maternal health has been excellent,” she recalled. “We do have to get more efficient on the ground with low-tech solutions like solar energy. It takes someone to actually make that happen at a sustainable cost.”
Even with the recent laser focus on maternal health Chamberlain Froese is looking at the big picture. “A lot of money is being thrown at the problem,” she said. “But what happens when it dries up?”
Read more about Save the Mothers at www.savethemothers.org.