FROM DESPAIR TO HOPE

Midwife and citizen journalist Philomena Okello from Uganda’s Lira District describes her journey as an advocate with White Ribbon Alliance.

Philomena Okello

Philomena Okello

“I have grown up seeing pregnant mothers and newborns being ‘sentenced to death’ for reasons that could have been prevented. The pain of seeing pregnant women and newborn die became a thorn in my flesh and deep inside me, I felt there should be some contribution I can make to humanity to prevent this. 

This was worsened by the fact I have seen so many pregnant women coming to hospital to give birth, expecting to go back with bouncing babies. But instead they end up in a coffin, or if the mother happens to survive, too often she goes back home with her dead baby. On one occasion, a woman died leaving her three-day old baby for me to care for. She had no hope for living, having been rejected by her husband, family members and the community. All that was because it was revealed that she was HIV positive.

Enough was enough. I prayed to God; what could I do to help prevent such ugly situations? The answer was given to me in 2011 when I attended the International Scientific Conference for nurses and midwives in Moroto, Karamoja District. The then commissioner of nurses in Uganda talked about White Ribbon Alliance, its vision, mission, goal, principles and values. I immediately joined White Ribbon Alliance. Since then, I have been a very active member, championing improved healthcare for mothers and newborns.

I feel so much joy when I see pregnant mothers and newborns receive the care they deserve in their homes, in the community and health facilities. This motivates me to work harder and mobilise the community to ensure mothers get the care they have a right to.

Women in my community are marginalised and feel they cannot openly speak for themselves, and so I am happy to be their voice, sharing their challenges so that they can receive better heath care. As a representative of WRA in Lira, I’m empowering the community to speak up and hold their leaders accountable for their promises of health services.  

In September 2015 I was chosen to represent my community in New York during the UN General Assembly where I spoke to an audience of 200 leaders from around the world, including government ministers and UN chiefs, at the Partnership for Maternal and Newborn Health ‘Accountability Brunch’. It caused a stir when I told them I had witnessed more positive change in the past two years due to the social accountability initiative of  White Ribbon Alliance Uganda than I had seen in the previous 40 years of my midwifery career!

Recently, the citizens in Lira District petitioned the Member of Parliament (MP) about our poor maternal and newborn health services. The MP has presented this petition in Parliament and we are hopeful the government of Uganda will support our campaign  - ACT NOW TO SAVE MOTHERS.”

Find out more about White Ribbon Alliance Uganda.