McMaster University

McMaster University

Faculty of
Health Sciences

Advancing health in Africa: Giving pregnant women the right to safe deliveries in Uganda

Published: February 7, 2018
Jean Chamberlain Froese with a mother and newborn baby in Kawolo General Hospital in Uganda
Jean Chamberlain Froese with a mother and newborn baby in Kawolo General Hospital in Uganda

This is part six of a six-part feature on members of the Faculty of Health Sciences advancing human health with partners in Africa.  

Jean Chamberlain Froese vividly remembers visiting Uganda in 1997 as a volunteer obstetrician.

The medical supplies closet at a rural health centre where women delivered their babies was bare. There was no basic medical equipment or even medication.

Right then and there, she knew something had to change.

"In today's world when we talk about equity and people's rights, many times there are no rights for women in the developing world to have a safe delivery," says Chamberlain Froese, associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at McMaster University. "In Uganda, many women die because they can't get the care they need."

After spending five years in Yemen, "Dr. Jean" as she is known, spent the past 12 years living and raising her family in Uganda while fostering maternal health in Africa.

She found there are three delays that contribute to the death of women during pregnancy and labour. The first is decision to seek care, the second is transportation to the nearest health facility and the third is a lack of resources, from medication to a doctor.

"There are many different delays, but at least half are before the mother even gets to the hospital," she says. "For me, the most important thing was realizing I'm the last link in the chain and we keep losing these mothers in the first two delays."

Chamberlain Froese says that simply contributing her skills as a physician was not enough. She knew social change was the only way to make a difference.

As such, she founded Save the Mothers in 2005. The non-profit organization promotes maternal health in the developing world through education, public awareness and advocacy. Based in Uganda and North America, Save the Mothers is part of a global movement to improve the health of mothers and babies.

In 2005, Save the Mothers launched its first program, a Master's of Public Health Leadership, at Uganda Christian University, near Uganda's capital, Kampala.

"We have trained 450 East African professionals who are politicians, journalists, religious leaders and in other disciplines who are now advocating for safe motherhood in their own theatres of influence," she says. "It's about bringing change to a society from within. I'm not bringing the change. They are bringing the change."

Chamberlain Froese and her family, including her husband and three children aged 11, 12 and 14, permanently moved back to Hamilton in May 2017.

She works as an obstetrician at St. Joseph's Healthcare Hamilton, but continues to be as dedicated as ever to her organization and its mandate. Each February and October, she will travel to Uganda to continue the work of Save the Mothers on the ground and offer her services to patients.

She is also working towards establishing a similar public health leadership training program for West Africa in Ghana.

"When you see women dying from a preventable cause, it changes your perspective," she says. "There's a great feeling about seeing a need and being able to bring others around that can help. It's a privilege to do what I do."

Read other articles in this series:

05/02/2018 - Advancing health in Africa: Building the first medical school in Namibia
05/02/2018 - Advancing health in Africa: Using rehabilitation to help those living with HIV in Zambia
06/02/2018 - Advancing health in Africa: Nurturing psychiatrists in Uganda
06/02/2018 - Advancing health in Africa: Supporting healthy life trajectories in South Africa
07/02/2018 - Advancing health in Africa: Mentoring subspecialists from Uganda in Hamilton
07/02/2018 - Advancing health in Africa: Giving pregnant women the right to safe deliveries in Uganda


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