Across the Mpanga River: MSH-Trained Health Worker Helps Pregnant Women Access Care

 {Photo credit: Tadeo Atuhura/MSH.}Dorothy Mugisha (left) with Olivia Nkundabanyanga and her new baby.Photo credit: Tadeo Atuhura/MSH.

Dorothy Mugisha is a 36-year-old resident of Nyabbani II village in Kamwenge district, Uganda. Trained as a village health team member in 2010 by the USAID-funded STRIDES for Family Health, Dorothy understands the importance of delivering at a health facility. She counsels women on the importance of antenatal care, delivering at the facility, and the benefits of modern family planning–and helps pregnant women access these services at a health facility. 

Residents of nearby Kanaara village must cross the Mpanga River–or travel over 40 km by foot–to access health services at the nearest health facility, Nyabbani health center III.  Dorothy explains that previously Kanaara residents used logs to cross the deep river; but some people fell in and died. The perils of crossing the river discouraged most pregnant women from accessing health services at the facility, and many delivered babies in their homes with the help of a traditional birth attendant.

“During the STRIDES Village Health Team (VHT) training, I learned the importance of family planning, attending all antenatal visits, and delivering at a health facility. It was after this training that I decided to help all pregnant mothers from Kanaara village to access these services.”

[Dorothy constructed a boat, and learned how to row it to transport women to the health facility.] {Photo credit: Tadeo Atuhura/MSH.}Dorothy constructed a boat, and learned how to row it to transport women to the health facility.Photo credit: Tadeo Atuhura/MSH.

“The community in Kanaara has my mobile number. They call me whenever there is a woman in labor.” When it comes to helping pregnant women, Dorothy explains that she is not after making money, rather saving the life of the mother and the baby. “For me, it is satisfying enough to see that as a trained village health team member, my community benefits.” 

Thirty-five-year-old Olivia Nkundabanyanga is one of the women who has benefitted from Dorothy’s boat service and counseling. She has six children with the youngest being five months. Olivia is grateful to Dorothy that she delivered at the health facility for the first time. 

“I delivered my five children at home because I didn’t know the importance of delivering at the facility and there was no easy means of transport. …When I got labor pains, I called Dorothy, who travelled across the river to help me. She transported me across the river free of charge,” Olivia says. After crossing, Olivia was able to deliver normally at the health center. 

“Olivia is one of 23 pregnant women I have transported across river Mpanga,” says Dorothy.

At Nyabbani health center III, the health workers appreciate the support Dorothy has offered to the pregnant women. Annette Kyasiima, an enrolled midwife at the facility, says that there is no other means of transport to across the river save for Dorothy’s boat. “When we receive a woman in labour from Kanaara, we know it is because of Dorothy that this woman has been able to access health facility services.”

In addition, Dorothy counsels couples on the use of modern family planning methods. “I counsel both pregnant and non-pregnant mothers on family planning; I have so far inspired 35 mothers to use modern family planning methods.”

STRIDES for Family Health, funded by USAID and led by MSH with partners, works in 15 districts in Uganda to increase contraceptive use and healthy timing and spacing of pregnancy, decrease maternal and child mortality, and develop a scalable nationwide intervention.

Tadeo Atuhura is a senior communications specialist for STRIDES for Family Health (STRIDES) in Uganda at MSH.

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