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Burundi partner strives for healthier newborns and fewer maternal deaths

Julie Crowley, Head of Office of the High Commission of Canada in Rwanda, travelled to Kigutu, Burundi to open a new Expectant Mothers’ House with Village Health Works. Photo/Butoyi Justin

February 18, 2019

By Janice Biehn

A new era of maternal health care in rural Burundi began last week, with the opening of two Expectant Mothers’ Houses adjacent to a clinic and the near complete Kigutu Hospital, Women’s Health Pavilion.

The state-of-the-art facility, built by local NGO Village Health Works (VHW) and supported by PWRDF and the Government of Canada, will serve women with at-risk pregnancies.

The maternal mortality rate in Burundi is 712 per 100,000 live births, compared to 530 per 100,000 in other East African countries. The Expectant Mothers’ Houses, combined with the Kigutu Hospital (which will be complete in 2020), aim to dramatically decrease the preventable and premature deaths directly related to unsafe surgery and unsanitary conditions.

The pair of Expectant Mothers’ Houses will contain a total of 48 beds. They will also accommodate women who live far from health centres and hospitals or face other geographical barriers such as flooding during the rainy season, lack of transportation, or other common issues faced by families in rural Burundi.

“The Expectant Mothers’ Houses will help save the lives of countless women who face arduous health challenges when bringing new life into our world,” says VHW CEO Deogratias Niyizonkiza, who founded the life-changing community health program in 2006. “VHW is grateful for the generous support of Global Affairs Canada and PWRDF and their commitment to building a healthier and more just world.”

Julie Crowley, Head of Office of the High Commission of Canada in Rwanda, and Richard Librock, PWRDF’s External Funding Manager, travelled to Burundi for the festive ribbon-cutting ceremony. “Festivities began with local drummers beating their drums to summon the Kigutu community to gather,” Librock said. The area soon filled with moms-to-be and mothers with babies on their backs.

VHW staff led Crowley, Librock and other guests on a tour of the VHW campus and explained how the AMCC’s project investments in nurses quarters, a nutrition centre and Expectant Mothers’ Houses will contribute to the smooth running of the hospital once it’s complete.

“Worldwide, every year more than 16 million adolescent girls become mothers,” said Crowley in her comments to the crowd. “A 14-year-old girl who becomes a mother has a far higher risk of health complications, infection, disease and death. Canada wants to help close existing gaps in reproductive rights and health care for women.

“No woman should lose her life in bringing another life into the world,” she added.

PWRDF Executive Director Will Postma is confident the new Expectant Mothers’ House will change lives and lead to healthier moms and babies in these vulnerable communities. “I was so encouraged when I visited Village Health Works in 2017. I was glad to see the impact their programs are making in the community with many people coming from afar for support and treatment.”