By Lisa Miller, a member of the Rotary Club of Blue Bell, Pennsylvania, USA
Sixteen mothers die in childbirth in Uganda every day. How can we make a difference?
Ryan Smith, then a medical student at Drexel University College of Medicine, posed that question to his father several years ago. The question, and his father’s membership in Rotary, combined to bring together staff from two medical schools — Drexel University College of Medicine in Philadelphia, USA, and Makerere University School of Health Sciences in Kampala, Uganda, to exchange ideas, share technology, and discuss ways to reduce mortality and morbidity during and after childbirth and improve access to essential medical services.
Ron Smith, a member of the Rotary Club of Blue Bell and a recent recipient of the Drexel University Alumni Association’s Service to Community Award, spearheaded the maternal and child health project for our club. In partnership with other clubs, Drexel University College of Medicine, and other interested parties, the project set out to create a sustainable exchange of healthcare ideas and train healthcare professionals. All of this came from one idea.
We expect to see an impact well beyond what is visible during the project. Immediately, and on into the future Ugandans will:
- learn effective practices to safeguard the wellbeing of mothers and infants and put their new knowledge into everyday practice;
- ensure mothers will safely deliver healthier children;
- apply precious medical resources to other needs.
Children will begin life with a better likelihood of meeting developmental milestones, eventually growing into stronger young adults with greater potential to contribute to society.
As part of the Rotary Foundation grant, Smith led a vocational training team consisting of obstetricians, gynecologists, midwives and technology experts from Drexel to Uganda in January 2014. The Drexel team paid a second visit to Uganda this year from mid-February through 1 March.
Smith joined the team on 18 February along with Drexel University’s Owen Montgomery, chair of the department of Obstetrics & Gynecology at the College of Medicine; and Michelle Rogers, PhD, associate professor, College of Computing & Informatics. They conducted a Grand rounds (a formal meeting where physicians discuss the clinical case of one or more patients) between the two medical schools and made significant progress toward the goals of:
- upgrading mother and child healthcare skills at four health centers near Kampala;
- providing “Helping Babies Breathe” and “Helping Mothers Survive” training in two health districts;
- upgrading technology to ensure adequate connectivity between the medical schools;
- developing a regular distance learning education seminar series.
The third year of our project is already deep into the planning stages. With the partnership growing between Drexel and Makerere at the highest levels, our healthcare education efforts will be sustained for years to come with exchanges of faculty and students in medicine, nursing, public health, engineering, law, business, and more.
A vocational training team from Uganda Makerere and Kampala North arrived in Drexel on 2 May and will be here through 22 May, focusing on distance education supported by the computers donated last year.
Joanne Messerschmidt, president of our Rotary club, summed it up. “Our club is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year and it is so relevant to us that Ron, a founding member, has stretched our club beyond its imagination at this time. This is a broad-reach, impactful project that demonstrates the commitment to this year’s theme and inspires us to Light Up Rotary.”