A woman is about to give birth. She’s 10 kilometres from a hospital with only a bicycle to get there.
How about working hours on end out in the field, having to wash clothes by hand and carry water in a bucket for kilometres on top of your head?
It’s the reality for many pregnant women in Uganda.
Hamilton obstetrician, McMaster associate professor and gynecologist Jean Chamberlain Froese has made it her life's work to help provide adequate health care for mothers in East Africa.
Since 2005, she has spent eight months of every year there, running a program she birthed called Save the Mothers, a two- year work-study program that educates local community leaders on motherhood safety. Roughly 200 East African professionals have graduated from the program.
Froese’s tireless work has earned her the Prix d’Excellence, a Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada award that recognizes doctors who go beyond the call of duty.
“I’m thankful this award will bring the limelight to the situation for mothers in the developing world,” she explained. “As Canadians we want to do what we can to support these women. We’re part of a global community.”
The award ceremony takes place on Sunday.
“In Canada, we have the same population as Uganda, about 35 million,” she said. “Across our whole country, about 10 to 15 mothers die from pregnancy complications per year, and usually when they die its in an intensive care unit in a large hospital. In Uganda, it’s 6,000 women who die per year. They don't even reach a health facility. They die in their homes or on the way to a health facility. In some hospitals there's no blood available.”
Save the Mothers is an educational program but also serves as a vehicle to raise awareness on the issue of women’s roles in society. Froese says there's a direct correlation between how females are viewed and the kind of health care they receive.
“Mothers can be saved and are worth saving,” added Froese. “That may sound like a simple statement but women are seen as property, dispensable. Your wife dies, you can get another wife. How do we change the way people think?”
Froese says each graduate has touched thousands of lives in Uganda.
In 2005, Froese and her husband Thomas wanted to expand their Hamilton family, and adopted three-year-old Hannah in Uganda.
“She was an abandoned baby. Every day she reminds me on a personal level why I’m doing what I’m doing. I’m reminded what the impact is of a child without a mother,” she said.