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Sonic Healthcare Foundation invests in safe births in northern Uganda

7 September 2023

Sonic Healthcare Foundation is proud to announce our sponsorship of a significant new initiative that will deliver better maternal health outcomes for thousands of mothers and babies in one of the most disadvantaged parts of Uganda.

Under a new agreement with the Barbara May and Te-Kworo Foundations, Sonic Healthcare Foundation will sponsor the construction, fit-out, procurement and operating costs of ‘Sonic Healthcare Foundation - Kworo Hospital’, a 42-bed maternal health facility in Agago District, an under-resourced district in northern Uganda.

The new hospital, is expected to save the lives of thousands of Ugandan women and babies in four remote and impoverished districts in northern Uganda. In addition to funding the hospital construction and fitout, Sonic Healthcare Foundation will also support the hospital’s day-to-day running costs for at least three years.

“Te-Kworo Foundation works with the most vulnerable people within northern Uganda - with pregnant women who have to walk miles to get services,” according to Te-Kworo Foundation founder and Executive Director, Alice Achan.

Currently, the nearest surgical or specialist service for a pregnant woman needing a caesarean section is up to two hours’ drive away, on very rough roads. These expectant mothers often need to sell a chicken or goat to raise the money to get to medical facilities by bus or, if they’re fortunate, an ambulance, and they may not make it in time.

“We eagerly look forward to the establishment of this exciting new hospital and working with the Te-Kworo and Barbara May Foundations to deliver sustainable and high-quality maternity and fistula prevention services to the women of this region,” said Lindsay Thitchener, Manager of the Sonic Healthcare Foundation.

Expansion of existing services

The new Sonic Healthcare Foundation – Kworo Hospital (SHF – Kworo Hospital) comes on the back of a small existing maternity clinic founded and run by Te-Kworo Foundation in the town of Pader. Since opening in 2017, the clinic has safely delivered 2,500 babies and provided antenatal and post-natal care to 20,674 women through an outreach program to remote villages in outlying and inaccessible areas.

In addition to the construction of the hospital, Sonic Healthcare Foundation will facilitate access to up-to-date pathology equipment as well as the clinical and scientific expertise of Sonic Healthcare and its 42,000 employees world-wide. This will include a fully functioning blood bank – a life-saving service that has been unavailable to the population to date.

Ongoing hospital support

Sonic Healthcare Foundation has actively supported hospitals in central Africa since 1996, and the Foundation currently supports hospital laboratories in Tanzania, Ethiopia, South Sudan and Goma, DRC. The latter includes support of the pathology and radiology departments, as well as outreach programs in Congo.

“We are delighted to help in the provision of the new hospital, which will include birthing suites, a specialised newborn baby unit and two operating theatres,” Mr Thitchener said.

Designed by Australian architects

The Sonic Healthcare Foundation – Kworo Hospital was designed pro bono by Australian architects, NBRS, who have a long history in serving the people of East Africa, including the design of a fistula hospital in Ethiopia several decades ago. Former NBRS architect, David Heap, has moved to Uganda to oversee the project jointly with Te-Kworo Foundation Uganda.

Involvement of the Barbara May Foundation

Dr Andrew Browning, founder of the Barbara May Foundation, will oversee the medical and clinical aspects of the new hospital. The SHF – Kworo Hospital will be the fifth maternity hospital in the Barbara May group, joining two hospitals in Ethiopia (the Vision Maternity Care hospital in Barhir Dar, and Barbara May Maternity hospital in the remote Afar region), Kivulini Hospital in Tanzania and Reconciliation Hospital in South Sudan. Dr Browning is a leading fistula surgeon who has performed or facilitated 14,000 fistula surgeries around the world.  

The Sonic Healthcare Foundation – Kworo Hospital will not only prevent obstetric fistula* from occurring by providing safe maternal health care; it will also treat fistula patients. An estimated 200,000 women are believed to be suffering with obstetric fistula in Uganda. Although there have been improvements in maternal health care over the last decades, another 2,000 are added to this number each year.

Maternal health statistics in Uganda

Every year in Uganda, 6,000 women die from pregnancy and childbirth-related causes. Every day, 94 babies are stillborn, and 81 newborn babies die. Most of these deaths are entirely preventable. Only 57% of births in Uganda take place with the support of a trained birth attendant, and many health facilities lack adequate staff, equipment and infrastructure. 

The rate of maternal mortality in northern Uganda, estimated to be 600 deaths per 100,000 births, is twice the national Ugandan rate of 300 per 100,000 births. This compares to 7 per 100,000 births in Australia.

*Fistulas are unnatural holes between organs, such as the vagina, bowel, rectum and bladder, caused by the trauma of obstructed childbirth. Frequently both mother and child die. If the mother survives, she is left with malodorous urine and faeces leaking from bodily cavities for the rest of her life. Depression and suicide often follow. It is estimated 2 million African women alone, many in Uganda, are isolated suffering fistulas.