McMaster University

McMaster University

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Chamberlain Froese wins prestigious humanitarian award from Royal College

By Laura Thompson
Published: April 7, 2009
J. Fraser Mustard
Dr. Jean Chamberlain Froese, an obstetrician and director of the international women's health program at McMaster

A McMaster University assistant professor who has dedicated her life to making pregnancy and childbirth safer in the developing world has been awarded a prestigious humanitarian award by the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada.

Dr. Jean Chamberlain Froese, an obstetrician and director of the international women's health program at McMaster, has been named the 2009 recipient of the Teasdale-Corti Humanitarian Award.

The award honours Canadian physicians who go beyond the accepted norms of routine practice to exemplify altruism and integrity, courage and perseverance in the alleviation of human suffering.

Since founding Save the Mothers, an international non-profit organization, Dr. Chamberlain Froese has worked to reduce maternal mortality by training leaders within the developing world to improve the health of mothers through advancements in education, social services, communications and legislation.

The program, based in Uganda since 2005, offers a master’s degree in public health leadership at the Uganda Christian University. It was specifically designed to provide professionals in Uganda with the leadership tools to advocate for safe motherhood and bring about change in their own communities.

"When I stand in front of a class of 30 people, I just realize that they will be able to do so much more than I will ever be able to do as an expatriate," said Dr. Chamberlain Froese, who spends eight months of the year in Uganda and the remaining four teaching at McMaster. "These students have huge potential, and it’s a very rewarding feeling to realize that they’re going to take what they’ve learned and go way beyond wherever I could in Uganda."

To date, Save the Mothers has welcomed 105 students – including four members of the Ugandan parliament. The program is also in the process of expanding to other countries in East Africa, including Kenya and Tanzania.

The program is needed as more than 525,000 women in the developing world die each year from preventable complications of childbirth and pregnancy. Compare that to Canada, where approximately 15 women succumb to maternal health problems each year, Dr. Chamberlain Froese said.

"I look at the issue of safe motherhood as just a silent tragedy that’s been going on for the last 100 years," she said. "It’s like anything in life, if no one pays attention or people don’t realize that it’s abnormal, it just keeps on going. And that’s the way it’s been in the developing world."

Prior to establishing Save the Mothers, Dr. Chamberlain Froese worked as an obstetrician in Yemen, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Pakistan. Her first international experience with mothers in need was in Uganda in 1997, where she worked as clinical director of a project with the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada and the Association of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Uganda.

The Teasdale-Corti Humanitarian Award is named in honour of Canadian surgeon Dr. Lucille Teasdale and her physician husband, Dr. Piero Corti. For 35 years, the couple dedicated their lives to bringing medical services to the Gulu region of Uganda amidst war, poverty and disease. Together, they transformed a small missionary dispensary into a modern teaching hospital which is now almost entirely staffed by Ugandan health-care professionals.

"Change in any society takes time," Dr. Chamberlain Froese said. "I think we have to have the long-view approach, very much like Lucille Teasdale did, to see change. The hospital that she started in that area has taken a long time. I think safe motherhood globally is also going to take a long time to see real change."

Dr. Chamberlain Froese will receive the Royal College’s Teasdale-Corti Humanitarian Award at the annual clinical meeting of the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada in June 2009.

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