Sweden has had a two year financial support to UNICEF focusing on improving maternal and child health in Karamoja. Karamoja, consisting of seven districts, is the most vulnerable region in Uganda with regard to poverty and health indicators. The Embassy of Sweden in Uganda is currently preparing a continuation of support to this project with technical assistance from Sida HQ. In conjunction with this preparation of support, the Embassy of Sweden/Sida was invited for a study visit arranged by UNICEF. I participated at the visit.
Challenges in Karamoja include few health facilities combined with poor health seeking behavior, malnutrition, poor sanitation facilities and difficulties in retaining staff. But progress is recorded. The UNICEF support has included incentives to promote health-seeking behavior such as transfer vouchers to bring mothers to facilities to give birth and the birth cushion. The birth cushion is a UNICEF Uganda innovation designed to accommodate traditional birthing positions amongst some ethnic groups in Karamoja. Another innovation is solar lightning which has proven to be highly appreciated. Previously health care staff had to hold a mobile phone with their teeth during night-time deliveries but now they can rely on the installed solar power.
I experienced the birth of this little boy far away in the countryside in Northeastern Uganda. The mother used a so called birth cushion which has been invented to encourage women to give birth in a health clinic. That is a sign of progress in the making.
Challenges are however still present and more work needs to be done; in the room next to where I am, a 13 year old girl has just given birth to her first child. So there is a lot that still needs to be done here.
Health and Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) Policy Advisor, Sida