Babies in Arua delivered with safe hands, thanks to UNICEF water
Access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene in health facilities is a key component of universal health coverage and underpins the delivery of quality , equitous and dignified health services for all, especially for women and girls. It supports health workers to treat and care for their patients in a clean and safe environment, prevents and controls cross infections and attracts people to use healthcare services.
This is what is happening in Bondo Health Centre III in Arua District in the West Nile Region of Uganda, where UNICEF – with financial assistance from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) – has installed a solar powered water system that provides clean and safe water for the health facility and nearby communities.
Changes in the maternity ward
You can’t miss the maternity ward at the health centre. Sr. Buleru Sabina, a registered midwife, clad in her sparkling white uniform, receives heavily pregnant mothers delivered by boda bodas (motorcycles). They will soon bring their babies into the world.
Two years ago, the situation was appalling. The facility lacked water and health workers relied on an old borehole that often broke down and ran out of water in the dry season, forcing them to collect water from long distances, often relying on unsafe sources such as ponds and rivers. The same water was used by patients.
Buleru says that mothers didn’t want to give birth at the facility for fear of getting sick. If a woman came to deliver, she would insist on being discharged the same day. The mothers had no bathing shelters and often waited for nightfall to wash themselves in the nearby bush.
“In a nutshell, the health facility was dirty,”
Without the water, the community had shunned the health facility, especially for deliveries. But today, this is no longer the case.
“Look!” says Buleru as she points at a huge water tank right in front of the maternity ward. “We have plenty of water, our patients are happy, and we are happy too.”
From 30 deliveries a month in 2009, the ward currently handles an average of 66 deliveries a month, against the Ministry of Health target of 70. “We are almost achieving 100 per cent,” Buleru says proudly.
UNICEF has also provided equipment like delivery kits, sterilizers, resuscitation kits, delivery beds, protective gear, monitoring charts, among others, to facilitate safe deliveries, and has also funded the installation of a latrine block and bathing shelter specifically for mothers, to ensure privacy.
A stroll in the maternity ward leaves one speechless. It is clean, the labour suite provides for patients’ privacy. In the ward, three mothers cuddle their babies as others waits to deliver. Buleru delivered the three babies the previous night and says that during peak times, she can even have 10 deliveries a night. “We now receive very many mothers, even beyond out catchment area.”
According to Buleru, the Bondo maternity ward has greatly evolved from what she referred to as a “kitchen” to a model labour ward. When asked what a model labour ward should have, she mentions the constant supply of water as one of the components.
The health facility also has handwashing containers all around the compound. They are filled with water and a small piece of soap is placed right beside the water containers. Patients strolling in head straight to the containers to wash their hands before they queue for services. Many are seen heading to the taps to quench their thirst after trekking for long distances to get to the health centre. The water is safe for drinking.
The provision of water at the facility has not only improved safety for patients, it has also improved the working conditions of health workers.. This is an important motivator as staff now feel comfortable to do what they do without fear of being infected.
"Seeing more and more mothers coming to deliver in this facility is motivating enough and pushes me to keep doing what I do because when more come, I know that my work is appreciated,”
Testimonies from mothers on the ward
Sunday Maliko delivered a baby girl at Bondo Health Centre III. “I am happy because there is plenty of water. I was able to bathe after delivery. I can wash my baby’s clothes at any time and we have plenty to drink. I saw the nurse washing hands using the water during the delivery and also used it to clean me.” She appealed for clean water systems to be installed in other health facilities.
Monica Oguaru, 36 years, is waiting to give birth. “I am impressed by the cleanliness in the ward. It is different from other places where I have delivered before. Without water, life is hard. During my antenatal care visits, I used the water to drink and to take my medication. While I wait for delivery, I am using the water to bathe and am happy.”