Showing up for moms and babies: ensuring respectful maternal care

Co-Authored by Watsi and Kupona Foundation

The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly impacted access to essential maternal and child health services. UNICEF recently highlighted a severe shortage of resources, including midwives, transportation disruptions that prevent pregnant women and mothers from accessing care, and patients’ general reluctance to visit hospitals due to risk of COVID-19 infection, meaning that when patients do seek care, their condition is often already critical.

We know that women need to attend antenatal care visits, deliver with a skilled healthcare provider, have access to emergency surgery if the need arises, and receive postnatal care to ensure optimal health outcomes for both mothers and babies. In addition, babies born with congenital anomalies need timely access to care to help ensure they survive and thrive.

Harvard’s Maternal Health Task Force shared estimates that the disruption of health services due to COVID-19 has, in the best-case scenario, created 42,240 additional child deaths and 2,030 additional maternal deaths worldwide, every month.

Additional maternal and child deaths per month modeled by researchers' scenarios

In short, maternal and child healthcare cannot wait and must be prioritized throughout every stage of this pandemic. Without access to life-saving interventions and responding to pregnant women’s needs, many more mothers and children will die from treatable and preventable conditions.

What can be done to address this pressing global problem?

Watsi and Kupona Foundation are proud to be a part of the solution to this global problem by providing respectful, high-quality, and patient-centered care to mothers and children in resource-poor settings during this time of crisis. This includes listening to pregnant and laboring women and responding to their needs. The investments we make now will ensure that our medical partners emerge from this crisis healthier, stronger, and more resilient in the years ahead.

Kupona Foundation is a nonprofit committed to delivering high quality healthcare to those who need it most in Tanzania. Our local partner, Comprehensive Community Based Rehabilitation in Tanzania  (CCBRT), is a leading specialist healthcare provider in Tanzania and a lynchpin in their healthcare system. Since 2009, CCBRT has designed and implemented a comprehensive maternal health system strengthening initiative that has put patient voices at the heart of service delivery. CCBRT works with 23 public health facilities across Dar es Salaam, one of the largest cities in Tanzania, to build their capacity for high quality, respectful, and inclusive maternal and newborn healthcare. Even though this work has become more challenging during COVID-19, mothers and babies can’t wait.

As Dr. Brenda, a leading practitioner from Tanzania, recently shared in The Lancet, “To fulfill the complex demands of COVID-19 management while continuing essential reproductive health services, the number of maternity staff needs to be increased, capacitated, and provided with personal protective equipment, essential medicines, and access to integrated, relevant, and realistic guidelines on respectful maternity and COVID-19 services."

Tanzania is one of ten countries in the world that, together, contribute to 61% of global maternal deaths and 66% of global newborn deaths. In Tanzania, each year, 11,000 women die due to complications of pregnancy and childbirth, and 66,000 newborns will not survive their first month of life. It is estimated that over 80% of these deaths could be prevented if pregnant women had access to respectful maternity care.  

By training over 7,000 health workers on clinical skills across the childbirth continuum, including respectful maternity care practices, CCBRT’s Maternal Health team has enabled a 48% reduction in the maternal mortality ratio, a 19% reduction in the stillbirth rate, and improved the quality of care for over 800,000 mothers in Tanzania.

CCBRT midwife delivering antenatal care to a mother in Tanzania during COVID-19

Watsi is an international health nonprofit that funds essential surgical care for patients facing extreme poverty across the Global South. We have been guided by our values throughout the current global health crisis, and led by our commitment to put our local medical partners and patients first in everything we do.

In response to local needs during COVID-19, Watsi has increased funding towards maternal care by more than 10% since March. In partnership with African Mission Healthcare, Watsi also launched two new hospital sites in southern Uganda and central Kenya to reach more mothers and children in need of essential healthcare now and in the years ahead.

Kyarimpa, a nursery school teacher from Uganda, is among the patients we have recently helped access safe labor and delivery care. Due to COVID-19 she has been unable to work and has consequently faced significant financial insecurity. Fortunately, Watsi donors were able to support her maternal care and she safely delivered a healthy baby girl.

Kyarimpa shared, “Thank you, Watsi, for supporting us financially and saving our lives. Thank you for being my pillar during these uncertain times. I will always remember your help.”

A proud new mom: Kyarimpa, a Watsi maternity care patient, and her baby.

Tibasiima is another Watsi patient who recently delivered her ninth child, a healthy baby boy. Both mom and baby are doing well thanks to the efforts of the talented frontline healthcare professionals at Rushoroza Hospital in Uganda. She and her husband work as small-scale farmers, but they have a difficult time providing for their large family.

Tibasiima told us after her delivery, “God sent us to Rushoroza Hospital. We were very lucky, we walked to Rushoroza Hospital because we had no transport means. Thank you, Watsi, for we had no way out. We shall take good care of our child through farming.”

Tibasiima, a Watsi maternity care patient, heading home with her new baby.

Although the world is facing unprecedented challenges as a result of COVID-19, we cannot afford to leave mothers and their babies behind because they are our future. We must continue to respectfully meet their unique and complex needs during the pandemic and beyond. Both Kupona and Watsi are committed to prioritizing the healthcare needs of mothers and babies,  amplifying their voices and experiences, and supporting frontline health workers to ensure we best serve our patients.

We hope that you will join us at this critical moment in helping to lift up mothers and their babies for a brighter future. In doing so, we are confident that, together, we can emerge from this time of uncertainty with empowered families, healthier communities, and strengthened health systems.

Join us today in creating a stronger tomorrow for mothers and their babies across the globe.

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Co-Authored by Mackinnon & Laura at Watsi with Susana & Paley at Kupona Foundation

The Watsi Team

The Watsi Team

Everyone deserves healthcare.