As you enter Matuma Health Centre III in Yumbe District, northern Uganda, a handwashing facility with soap awaits you. You cannot enter the health centre without washing your hands first and wearing a mask.
All people seeking services at this health centre – inpatients and outpatients – are wearing masks branded ‘GoU’ (Government of Uganda) which were distributed by the government free of charge as part of measures to control the spread of COVID-19.
From a distance, you can visibly see that the health centre is clean and the compound is neat. The treatment rooms, maternity wards and admission rooms all smell fresh.
The improved hygiene and cleanliness at the health centre is attributed to improvements in the water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) infrastructure, installed by UNICEF with funding from the Government of Sweden through the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida).
The health authorities at the health centre note that the WASH infrastructure provided since April 2019 has contributed to an increase in the deliveries in that during the COVID-19 lock-down, mothers managed to come to have their babies delivered.
Before the facilities were installed, deliveries were ranging between 28-40. In March 2020, 34 deliveries were registered, 35 in April, 44 in May, 49 in June and 56 in July.
“In 2019, the entire health centre was now connected to water and we thank UNICEF for the support. When women come to deliver at our maternity centre now, they bathe before delivery, which prevents sepsis. They also wash their clothes and they use the toilets with ease as water is available,” Sister Gertrude Musalaba, the Maternity In-Charge, explains.
Matuma Health Centre III, located in Kei Sub-County in Yumbe District, West Nile sub region near the border with South Sudan, serves a population of 14,126 nationals and South Sudanese refugees. Of these 607 are children.
The newly installed WASH infrastructure includes two four-stance disability-friendly latrine blocks with handwashing facilities and bathing shelters. Water has been connected to the laboratory, outpatient department, labour suite, sluice room and shower room at the maternity ward.
“Water is a key driving factor that motivates women to deliver at the facility. Previously, mothers and health workers used to fetch water from a borehole that is about 500 meters from the health centre. It was a major inconvenience to the mothers and health workers. Now there is water everywhere. Mothers are comfortable to come and deliver from here,” says Abassi Mansour, the District Health Educator.
Besides the availability of water, Sister Musalaba says that the provision of solar-powered lighting in the maternity ward and the recruitment of an additional midwife have also encouraged more mothers to give birth at Matuma. The solar power system was installed by UNICEF with funds from Sida while the midwife at Matuma and 45 others recruited to support hard-to-reach health centres are all paid by the district authorities with UNICEF funds.
“We used to use a torch in the maternity ward. It was not easy. Things are now better with the lighting system provided. I was the only government staff serving all these mothers. I am grateful that UNICEF is paying for another midwife who is working with me to deliver the babies,” says Musalaba with a smile.
According to UNICEF’s Paul Semakula, the WASH improvements at the health centre will contribute to a more effective infection prevention and control process and keep patients and health workers alike safe from the risk of infection, including COVID-19. In addition, the hygiene of patients and caretakers will also greatly improve hygiene, helping to protect their family’s health and everyone else’s.
During a visit at the health centre on 4 August 2020, several mothers had come for antenatal care, and Musalaba was conducting health education sessions, reminding them to eat nutritious foods and to always deliver at the health centre. Amidst them was Mansour Shaffi Aliga who had escorted two of his expectant wives for the antenatal sessions.
Sister Musalaba applauded Aliga for his commitment to bring his wives for ANC noting that male involvement in maternal issues is low within the district.
Aliga says it is his responsibility to ensure that his wives attend all the ANC visits and deliver from the health centre.
- By Catherine Ntabadde
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of UNICEF Uganda.