Since partnering with the Kiwoko Hospital, Uganda, in 1998, Adara Development (formerly The ISIS Foundation) has helped to create a thriving neonatal intensive-care unit (NICU) and maternity ward. Each centre is a working model that shows high-tech healthcare doesn’t always have to cost the earth.
Susan Biggs, the Chief Executive Officer of Adara Development, tells Thread Publishing how these locally run services are effecting deep and lasting change.
I recently visited our neonatal intensive-care unit in Uganda with a man who travels all over Africa selling medical equipment. He had provided an anaesthesia machine to the hospital, so I said: “Let me show you what an NICU looks like.”
He walked in and stood there with his mouth open. “I travel all over Africa for six months every year,” he said. “I’ve never ever seen anything like this in my life.”
Kiwoko’s NICU is the most amazing, well-functioning, well-equipped NICU operating in any low-resource setting – probably anywhere in Africa and possibly the world. Over the past 8 years, we have seen a four-fold reduction in neonatal deaths for the smallest infants. It’s a credit to Debbie Lester – who started as a volunteer and is now in senior management at Adara – and to the hospital, and its Ugandan doctors and nurses. Everyone is extremely committed and excellent at what they do.
“I travel all over Africa for six months every year,” he said. “I’ve never ever seen anything like this in my life.”
Local talent, globally trained
Bit by bit, Debbie has taught new techniques and introduced new technology. She works with a neonatologist from Seattle Children’s Hospital too. He comes for two weeks to train the doctors and nurses – has done so every year for the past 14 years.
When I visited earlier this year, there were 25 local nurses working there and 25 babies in the NICU. (Capacity sometimes reaches 45 babies!) Five babies were on continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machines. It’s an extraordinary place – people come across the world to see it.
As an extension of NICU, we’ve built a maternity ward through which 3000 women pass every year. Before, the community used a room the size of a shoebox and fairly unsophisticated technology. Now people from the city travel to use the facilities, which is a separate issue we are addressing.
Spreading sustainable change
The challenge we faced at the start is that it’s not unusual for city doctors and nurses in Uganda to fail to turn up to work. Being a government employee can be like winning the lottery there – you get the job and a guaranteed income for life, whether you turn up or not. And many doctors and nurses simply don’t.
That doesn’t happen at Kiwoko hospital. And patients know that’s the case, so they’ll make a two-hour drive to come to us. We’re getting to the point where we have to be very careful because there are too many people and we may reach capacity.
So we are working on a new community program. It brings influential local people to the hospital and trains them for four days. We teach them what happens when a woman gives birth in the community; when they need to bring a woman to hospital; how to make sure they have good, hygienic birthing communities; what the NICU is about; and when they may need to bring their babies to the NICU. Those people will then go back to their community and work with 10 women giving birth, and so on.
The long-term goal
The community has other local health clinics too, which are usually pretty poor. We’re training these people as well. By upscaling the health clinicians in the local communities, we hope women can go to their local health clinic in the first instance and come to the local hospital for more intensive help.
We know it’s also important to work in conjunction with the government, so we make sure government employees come along to learn too. Then they go back and implement their learnings, which makes for a very comprehensive holistic plan. It increases the number of the workers in the short term – but we’re also working in the long term.
Whether it’s the Yalbang School in Nepal or the NICU in Uganda, we believe in constantly deepening the services we provide. We want to do what we do really really well so other people can come and look and say: “Yes, we can do that too.”
Adara Development’s (formerly The ISIS Foundation) objective is to work side by side with communities and children in remote areas in Nepal and Uganda, improving their lives through health, education and other community development projects. Since 1998, they have grown to provide services each year to more than 30,000 people in poverty.
The Adara Group have had a wide range of financial supporters over the years. From inception to the end of December 2013, Adara Development had received about A$22.8 million (US$19.1 million) in donations.
Written by Thread Publishing (threadpublishing.com). Connecting the world one story at a time to bring humanity back into business. © 2014
Photo credit: Adara Group, Jonathon Torgovnik.