04/29/14Paula Schikkerling on midwifery in Uganda – Part 1

I met Paula Schikkerling years ago in Canada and have been following her path through women’s health care in British Columbia with great interest. She is one of those people who has a goal, a focus on behalf of others, and is willing to put on hold everything else in her own life to get to where she needs to be. Her dedication is immense. paula schikkerling She is about to head to Uganda to begin a six week placement there, and I had a chance to ask her some preliminary questions before her trip about what she does and why. An in-depth interview will take place upon her return so we can hear more about how women’s health care is being maintained, or struggling, in that part of the world.

1. So…where you are going and why you want to go?
I’m heading to Mbale – a city of about 100000 people – in Eastern Uganda. After completing 3 of our 4 years of training at UBC Midwifery, we are given the opportunity to do a global placement. There are currently 3 active sites in Uganda where students are placed. Myself, two other students and an instructor will be working in Mbale Regional Referral Hospital for 6 weeks, providing prenatal care, attending to women in labour, delivering and resuscitating babies and assisting in surgeries. The purpose of the program is two-fold: to engage in knowledge and cultural exchange with Ugandan care providers and to gain exposure to global health issues via first-hand experience with the multiple systemic barriers faced by women and families living in under-resourced areas.

2. Tell our readers about your background a bit?
I grew up in South Africa, where inequity and prejudice dominated every aspect of society. I was deeply disturbed by the poverty and abuse of human rights that I witnessed – and through liberal schooling and a strong sense of justice, I developed a passion for social equality. When I was 16, I immigrated to Canada, where I quickly become involved with social justice politics. When I learned about midwifery at age 20, I knew that it was the perfect confluence of my personal philosophy, politics, spirituality and skill set. Since then, I have worked with women and newborns, kids with special needs and families facing multiple systemic barriers…and 15 years and a ton of schooling later, am now finally a year away from being qualified as a midwife.

3. What is the most pressing problem – or one of them – facing women in so called emerging countries in terms of birthing care?
Women in poor countries face so many barriers: poverty, lack of personal power within their relationships and in society as a whole, and the prevalence of preventable diseases. Lack of skilled health workers, poor infrastructure and corruption within most systems make many of these challenges very difficult to overcome. Malaria is endemic in many regions of Uganda, HIV is on the rise and even basics such as clean drinking water are only available in certain areas. When it comes to childbearing in Uganda, only 30% of women have access to contraception and only 57% have a skilled attendant at birth. 16 women die every day in Uganda while giving birth! This is shocking and completely preventable. In Canada and the United States, by contrast, less than 20 women per 100,000 die in childbirth.

Part two of her interview will be online in two months after she gets back to Canada.

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