In Uganda, one in five of adolescents age 15 to 19 are mothers. Tragically, we have seen young girls as young as eleven present to our health centers and hospitals. Many of these young women find themselves in forced marriages or are rape victims. Despite this high rate of adolescent pregnancy, the Ugandan Ministry of Health reports that only 5% of public facilities in the country have Youth Friendly Sexual and Reproductive Health Services and until we launched our Mama Ambassadors Program the Rakai and Kyotera Districts provided no such services. Adolescent pregnant women in Rakai and Kyotera are known to hide after they recognize that they are pregnant, leaving school and not seeking much needed health services, which is directly linked to poor infant health and developmental outcomes. In Uganda, in addition to stillborn and newborn deaths that are 50% higher among teenage mothers, among infants of mothers who have not completed secondary school, 35% are stunted, 52% are not on track for literacy and numeracy development between ages 3 and 6, and 45% are not on track for socio-emotional development between ages 3 and 6. Pregnant teenagers maintain an extremely marginalized place within rural Uganda, leaving their infants particularly vulnerable to poor outcomes.

Beginning in December of 2018, with the support of the Grand Challenges Canada Saving Brains Program, we have established 33 peer support groups for adolescent mothers. We begin in the third trimester in order to support these young women to access maternal and newborn care services in one of our 48 partnering facilities, where BAMA has worked since 2015 to ensure the highest quality of care. In each of the monthly sessions, 364 enrolled mothers are learning essential parenting skills that are creating a strong bond between mother and baby. Many of our sessions include the fathers and extended family, to build a network of support for our mothers. At three six, nine and twelve months, we are measuring infant development, using the Ages and Stages Questionnaire, which is an internationally accepted evidence-based tool to evaluate infant and child development. We are also evaluating the psychological and emotional well-being of our young mothers. Our impact measures will be compared to a control group of adolescent mothers at a hospital in an adjacent district.

In addition to these support groups, we have established adolescent-friendly prenatal and reproductive health clinics at our two district hospitals. To date, 184 young women have received family planning services at these clinics. Our BAMA Program has gone above and beyond our Saving Brains Program mandate, establishing Neonatal Intensive Care Units (NICUs) at Rakai and Kyotera District Hospitals. Ten physicians in the Rakai and Kyotera Districts have been trained in management and care of the sick newborn. In turn, they have conducted on the job mentorships for over forty midwives and nurses. Since opening we have successfully treated 150 newborns in our NICU’s, babies who otherwise would not have survived.

Our Babies and Mothers Alive Program is proving that through the creation of strong and trusted partnerships with our beneficiaries and local government, we can dramatically improve maternal and newborn health outcomes. Now, with your support we are transforming the lives of hundreds of young mothers and their babies, creating a new future for these most vulnerable of families.