Safer Together: A Ugandan Mother’s Story

Covid-19 Travel Restrictions Contribute to Death of a Mother and Her Baby: Effects of The National Lockdown in Uganda

By Robina Biteyi, National Coordinator, White Ribbon Alliance Uganda

Anna Namawejje was 30-years old and the mother of a three-year-old toddler. She was about to give birth to her second baby when she lost her life. Anna did not die from the virus, but from rigid transportation restrictions put in place to stem its spread.

Anna woke early on April 19, with severe abdominal pains – she suspected it was the first signs she was in labor. She walked with her sister to the main road to find a motorcycle taxi, known as boda bodas in Uganda, to transport them to the hospital. The sisters had trouble finding a boda boda due to President Yoweri Museveni’s nationwide shutdown, that aimed to prevent the spread of COVID19. The plan banned road traffic, including public minibuses and boda bodas, used by many Ugandans for transportation. After waiting a long time, Anna and her sister finally were able to flag down a boda boda to take them to the nearest health centre.

Anna visited four health centres before she was able to access proper care. The first two health centres lacked basic equipment and were not able to even measure Anna’s blood pressure. The two facilities were also feeling the effects of the country’s travel bans – health workers were unable to take public transportation to work, leaving the health centres understaffed.  At the third facility, health workers found Anna’s blood pressure was high – meaning both Anna and her baby were at risk. Complications from high blood pressure can include pre-eclampsia; when untreated, pre-eclampsia progresses to eclampsia, where the mother may experience seizures or go into a coma. The health facility was not equipped to treat Anna’s high blood pressure and called an ambulance to transport her to Rubaga Hospital.

At Rubaga Hospital, Anna was immediately examined. The doctors could not find a fetal heartbeat and transferred her to an emergency ward for observation. After a few minutes, Anna was taken to the operating theatre, where she underwent an emergency Caesarean section. She soon fell into a coma and died shortly after. The immediate cause of death was excess fluid in the lungs, while the underlying cause was attributed to severe eclampsia. Anna’s newborn baby also died, soon after birth, from a severe lack of oxygen – a complication of eclampsia.

While eclampsia and related hypertensive disorders of pregnancy are a leading cause of maternal mortality, eclampsia is preventable and treatable. If the travel ban in Uganda wasn’t in place, it’s likely Anna and her baby would still be alive.

When protecting people from COVID-19, we must not put others at risk unnecessarily. The Global Respectful Maternity Care Council, convened by White Ribbon Alliance, launched the Safer Together campaign to help women, healthworkers and governments navigate this unprecedented crisis. Join the campaign, and help everyone stay safer, together.

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