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Voucher Plus Activity Saves Mothers’ Lives During COVID-19

As Herbert Busiku arrived in Mukhuwa village, a group of women with questions about the COVID-19 pandemic greeted him. “What should we do to use the voucher cards since we cannot move?” one woman asks. Another mother inquires if the facilities are safe for them, and another wonders if the midwives are available to attend to them. Busiku listens to the women’s concerns and provides reassurance. “If any woman needs to reach a health facility at any time, I will support her. The care you need is available.”

Herbert Busiku is a Village Health Team member who works as a Voucher Community-Based Distributor. He is part of USAID’s Abt-led Voucher Plus Activity, which expands access to quality obstetric, newborn, and postpartum family planning services for poor women by working with the private sector. Busiku helps poor pregnant women to buy vouchers that enable them to access affordable services at private health facilities. His dedication to saving the lives of pregnant women is driven by a personal loss. “I lost a sister because, when time came for her to go the hospital, we did not have enough money to get her [there],” he recalls. “This steered my zeal to support pregnant mothers during the period of pregnancy until they gave birth.”

Abt works with community volunteers like Busiku to sell maternal health vouchers at 4,000 Ugandan shillings (UGX) to women who qualify, while also providing safe motherhood information to target populations. These volunteers have continued to play a significant role in addressing emergency obstetric needs for poor pregnant women during the COVID-19 pandemic. Communities have been overwhelmed with anxiety since the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in Uganda and restrictions were put in place to stop the spread of the virus. Some pregnant women in Mukhuwa village had given up hope of delivering at a health facility for fear of contracting COVID-19. Other concerns included the availability of midwife assistance and accessibility of transportation to facilities in case of an emergency.

To ease the increasing concern among women in his community, Busiku visited the pregnant women to whom he had sold vouchers to encourage them to continue to visit the facilities for pregnancy care. “We have done so much to ensure that women and babies do not die in villages while trying to deliver at home,” he says. “The COVID-19 outbreak cannot let us lose all we have gained.” During the lock-down period alone, Busiku has helped 30 mothers access the care they need at private facilities with the support of the USAID Voucher Plus Activity.

Busiku’s experience has taught him that when a woman goes into labor, it is an emergency. Busiku encountered one of these emergencies recently.

“One day, an expectant mother called Hanakwa Janet found it very challenging to access transport means,” he recalls. “When she called me at night, requesting to be transported, I walked to Mbale district central police station, which is about 3 Km from my home, at 1 in the morning. The police station linked the mother to transport and she arrived at Vienna Hospital in time to save her life and the baby.” The mother underwent a caesarean birth to save her life and that of the baby. “If I had not made it to the hospital, I was going to lose my baby,” says Hanakwa, who is grateful that Voucher Plus volunteers like Busiku go above and beyond to ensure that mothers are not lost during child birth, despite the challenges of a global pandemic.

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