The fully equipped medical center in Mahama Refugee Camp II in eastern province near the border with Tanzania opened in April this year, run by Save the Children and can carry out up to three C-sections daily for refugee women and those from neighboring communities.
Prior to the opening of the center, any emergency obstetric complications were referred to a hospital in Kirehe, a town about 35 kms (22 miles) away along extremely bumpy, dirt roads, with the journey taking about 1.5 hours. Many women would arrive at the hospital in advanced stages of labour or have given birth during the journey, putting their own and their baby’s life at risk.
Data showed that 48% of the women referred to Kirehe District Hospital with obstetric complications required an emergency C-section, with many others experiencing post-birth complications due to the lack of support during labour.
Sarah,* 31, a mother of three, has lived in Mahama Refugee Camp for eight years. She told Save the Children that she suffered complications when she was due with her firstborn and had to be rushed to Kirehe District Hospital for an emergency caesarian section. By the time she arrived at the hospital, her baby’s head had already begun crowning.
Sarah* said: “When I arrived at the hospital, doctors told me that the baby was already between pelvic bones. They started pulling the baby’s head to help him come out. As a result, my baby boy was born tired and with a physical disability.
“My son should be in the first year, but I didn’t enrol him in school because his body’s parts are not functional, and he can’t talk. My firstborn should not have a disability. If I had had surgery within the camp, the doctors could immediately have performed a caesarean section instead of travelling to Kirehe District Hospital.”
Mahama is the biggest of six refugee camps in Rwanda, hosting more than 58,000 refugees and asylum seekers. Save the Children said the camp’s maternity wards see an average of 140 births per month, along with 80 consultations per week for expecting mothers.
Caesarian sections are a vital service for women experiencing complications in birth. Without access to these operations, babies’ and mothers’ lives and well-being are at risk.
On 26 April this year, Sarah* underwent her second successful cesarean section at the new health centre in the Mahama complex, giving birth to a healthy baby boy, her third born. Due to the health centre’s proximity to her home, her family members could visit her in the health centre and care for her.
Dr Yassin Uwimana, Save the Children’s Head of Comprehensive Obstetrical and Neonatal Care at Mahama Refugee Camp II Medicalized Health Centre said providing comprehensive emergency obstetric and neonatal services, including timely caesarian sections and blood transfusions, has a big positive impact on mothers.
“It reduces deaths or diseases that could be caused by long journeys to far-off hospitals when the mother is already in labour. Subjecting these mothers to a 1.5 hour journey on rough roads to the district hospital can lead to more complications and long-term illnesses or disability for their babies due to delay in receiving care,” he said.
Maggie Korde, Save the Children’s Country Director in Rwanda said:
“For women and mothers, especially refugees, access to reproductive healthcare is as important as access to food, water and basic healthcare. It’s a lifesaving intervention and when women don’t have access to basic emergency obstetric and newborn care - including prenatal care - women and babies will die.
“We’re delighted that mothers can now access such services including C-sections, blood transfusion, and maternal child health among others in the revamped medical centre. It benefits both the refugees and the host community socially and economically, as they get services near their homes where relatives can visit them.”
Save the Children has been providing health and nutrition services to refugees in the Mahama Camp since 2016. The aid agency has reached over 86,096 people through health and nutrition services, including 715 children delivered at Mahama Refugee Camp II Medicalized Centre in 2022.
Save the Children has been working in Rwanda since 1994 in partnership with the Government of Rwanda (GoR) and local stakeholders to promote a bright future for children, with experience working in all 30 districts of the country. The main areas of focus are education, child protection, child rights governance and health and nutrition in humanitarian and development contexts.
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NOTES TO EDITORS:
*Names have been changed to protect identities.