Sister Agnes Kasaigi’s Story

This blog introduces one of the 2014 International Midwife Award winners Sister Agnes Kasaigi. The awards were sponsored by The International Confederation of Midwives and Save the Children. This blog was adapted from Agnes’ application submitted by her nominator, Sylvia Nabanoba. The award winners were announced at this year’s International Confederation of Midwives 30th Triennial Congress in Prague, Czech Republic on June 3rd. 

“One day while I was on the ward, a pregnant woman came to give birth. She had not attended antenatal care at our hospital. She was severely anemic and I wondered whether she had had any antenatal care at all. What kind of health worker would let a pregnant woman deteriorate to that level without doing something about it?” recalls Sister Agnes Kasaigi, head of the Maternity Unit at Buwenge Hospital in Jinja district, Central Uganda.

Agnes goes on to explain that the case was too complicated to be handled by her hospital and immediate referral was sought. “Our ambulance was down, and the woman’s relatives did not have money. We tried our best to ensure that we got her to a referral hospital in time. We approached the local council chief who was willing to give us some money, and hired a car that took her to hospital. Unfortunately, she died before she could give birth to her baby. The baby died too,” continues Sr. Kasaigi.  Because of this tragic incident, Agnes works to ensure pregnant women seek proper antenatal care, and she teaches women the risks that place pregnant mothers’ lives and those of their babies in danger.

When Agnes Kasaigi recalls the maternity unit at Buwenge Hospital in Uganda’s Jinja District a few years back, she remembers a disturbing pattern: babies would die during labor and within a short time of being born. “We did not know how and were not equipped to save these lives. We used to get many stillbirths because we did not have the knowledge and equipment for resuscitating babies,” she remembers. The start of trainings on newborn resuscitation were a turning point for Sister Kasaigi, head midwife working in the hospital’s maternity ward. She says that many at Buwenge hospital just accepted these deaths but she thought that something more could be done. After training, she committed to put in place a resuscitation area, and decided to ask the hospital’s matron-in-charge to invest in a mattress and equipment to help babies breathe at birth.

Sister Kasaigi’s was granted these resources and after taking part in the training of others in her hospital on this life-saving skill, she confidently assures that no stillbirths have occurred under her watch. “Today the way we conduct our work is different – and so is the situation in our hospital. Initially, I would register one or two stillbirths per month under my watch. But now, I can spend months without handling a mother with a stillbirth,” Sr. Kasaigi confidently says.

Last week, Sister Kasaigi became one of the two recipients of the 2014 International Midwife Award at the 30th Triennial International Confederation of Midwives (ICM) Congress last week.

Her award and achievements are especially impressive because Agnes faces daily struggles in her rural hospital in Central Uganda. “We face many challenges every day. A lack of midwives is a big one.” According to the recent report, State of the World’s Midwifery, when trained and supported by a functional health system, midwives could provide 87% of the essential care needed for women and newborns, and could potentially reduce maternal and newborn deaths by two thirds.

Sister Agnes takes part in the training of nurses and midwives, alongside managing the maternity unit, which cares for 60-70 neonatal cases a month. Her contributions at the hospital have not gone unnoticed by her colleagues. Rahil Kirunda, in-charge at Buwenge hospital proudly says: “I have worked with Agnes for 10 years now, and she has showed great love and respect for her role as a midwife to the community. They have embraced her and trusted her with their lives during pregnancies. Our hospital serves an area which is mostly rural poor, and many are affected by HIV and face the stigma for the disease.” Agnes also delivers interventions that prevent the transmission of HIV from mother-to-child, and is respected and trusted among the community and surrounding areas.

“It is a miracle. When an HIV-positive mother comes to me for proper antenatal care, takes her required medication, and delivers a live, healthy baby,” Agnes says. “One of these mothers has in fact delivered not one but three HIV-negative babies, and they are happy and healthy children.”

Agnes Kasaigi receives the 2014 International Midwife Award from Mary Higgins, Board Member of the International Confederation of Midwives, left, and Prof. Joy Lawn on the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and Senior Advisor for Save the Children, center, at the ICM 30th Triennial Congress in Prague on June 3rd. Photo: Bex Morton/Save the Children

Agnes thinks that people interested in midwifery should be compassionate towards mothers and their babies, approachable, and determined to help babies survive. They should also “be kind and so lovely”, says Agnes who accepted the international recognition at the ICM Congress in Prague.

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