By Marissa Weeks, MSI US Senior Grants Manager
In October I traveled to Nkumba, a 30-minutes drive outside of Kampala, Uganda’s capital city to meet Suzan, a small clinic owner and MSI Uganda MS Lady. When we arrived, Suzan was speaking with a young woman who had just received contraception, offering her some final guidance. Suzan’s clinic is in a university town and most of her clients are young people, trying to get an education for a better future.
Suzan is warm and welcoming. Her generosity and desire to comfort her clients, especially when they are young and understandably nervous, is palpable. A room in the front serves as both the front desk and counselling area, divided by a partition that allows her clients to have conversations about the most personal aspect of their lives in private. She has adorned her clinic’s windows with white lace curtains and floral table cloths to brighten each small room.
Despite their vulnerability, Suzan makes her clients feel at home and responds to their questions with empathy, patience and when appropriate, humor.
Uganda has one of the youngest populations in the world. Almost a quarter of the population is between ages 15 and 24. Pregnancy rates among young people are extraordinarily high — almost a quarter of Uganda’s adolescents are either pregnant or have already had a child.
Roughly half of all pregnancies are unintended in Uganda, and half of those end in an unsafe abortion. These unsafe procedures can seriously injure women and girls and in worst cases result in death. In fact, 10% of all pregnancy-related deaths in Uganda are the devastating consequence of an unsafe abortion.
Before joining MSI Uganda’s network of community nurses and midwives known as MS Ladies, Suzan provided short-term methods of family planning such as oral contraceptives and injectables which protect women from unintended pregnancies, but only for a few months at a time. While effective, short-term methods require women to come back time and time again, which can be time consuming and costly for a busy student.
In 2017 MSI Uganda trained and equipped Suzan and many other women to grow their businesses, generating additional income for their families and expand contraceptive options for women and girls in their communities. Suzan is now qualified to provide long-term methods of family planning such as implants and IUDs, which can protect a woman for 3–10 years, well into her adult years when she may decide she’s ready to start a family.
Suzan is also now trained to provide lifesaving care to women who have undergone an unsafe abortion. She provides this care 6 to 7 times a month, empowering her clients to safeguard their bodies and futures.
“Since becoming an MS Lady I have seen my business grow so much and am now able to offer more services to these girls… I have seen a positive change.”
Since joining the MS Ladies, network Suzan has provided reproductive health services to more than 1,800 women and girls. If Suzan was not there to offer choice to her clients, their options for contraception and care after an unsafe abortion would be incredibly limited.
That morning two more young women came in, both of whom decided to get IUDs. They were friends and were visiting the clinic together to keep each other at ease. When asked why they chose an IUD over the other options available to them, they said that the fact that it would protect them for 10 years was a significant factor. They didn’t want to worry about getting pregnant while they are in school and in the years after trying to establish their careers. Ultimately, Suzan helped them make the right choice for them — a choice that wouldn’t have been available without support from MSI.