Ms Harriet Nayiga
The midwifery profession in the African context is often misunderstood and belittled, as noted by a leading scholar in this field of study. Midwifery is regularly classified as a "low-status profession". This results in financial hardships and inadequate recognition for midwives, as the crucial roles they play in the balance of life and death are not reflected in their pay or social status.
In 2015, the Aga Khan University School of Nursing and Midwifery (AKU-SONAM) started offering the Bachelor of Science in Midwifery (BScM) programme to registered midwives in Uganda. The programme was curated to boost improvements in maternal and infant mortality in Uganda and work towards universal healthcare coverage.
One of the midwives who applied in 2017 was Harriet Nayiga. She is now an International Council of Midwives (ICM) Young Midwifery Leader, Director of Midwife-led Community Transformation (MILCOT), recipient of the "Innovative Midwife" recognition by Nursing Now and an alumna of AKU-SONAM from Uganda.
Harriet graduated from AKU-SONAM in 2019 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Midwifery. However, her love for midwifery had started long before that. She grew up as the seventh-born in a family of ten in Masaka, Uganda, an area that was characterized by traditional birth attendants (TBAs) who despite their herbal and habitually non-scientific practices, would provide individualized, door-to-door care to their communities. This exposure to such personalized healthcare informed her approach when she formed MILCOT in 2017.
According to Harriet, MILCOT is an organization "which aims to bridge the gap between the midwife and local communities by providing Sexual Reproductive Health Information to adolescents and young adults. We do this so that they can make informed health decisions and help prevent teenage and unplanned pregnancies." Currently, the organization is based in Wakiso district, Southern Uganda and apart from providing sexual health information, it has expanded to provide vocational skills training, a nutritional support project as well as a group therapy project for young mothers.
All this good work has not gone unnoticed.
Barely two months after her graduation from AKU-SONAM on April 16, 2019, she was recognized by Nursing Now Global as one of their young Innovative Midwives. Nursing Now is a three-year global campaign (2018-2020), which aims to improve health by raising the profile and status of nursing worldwide. It is run in collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Council of Nurses (ICN). This recognition meant that she was invited to attend and participate in important healthcare events as part of the ICN delegation in different parts of the world, most notably the 72nd World Health Assembly in Geneva in May 2019. "I was so excited to meet fellow young nursing and midwifery leaders as well as the WHO team who highlighted the gaps in sexual and reproductive health services uptake. This opened my eyes to how much more I can do", shared Harriet after the Assembly in Geneva.
Nearly a month later, on June 6, she was selected by the International Council of Midwives as one of the Young Midwifery Leaders. This 2-year programme provides young midwives with a unique opportunity to learn how to develop as leaders in their professional lives and the communities they work in. The selection panel only picked ten midwives from several applications. The programme facilitates their mentorship by world-renowned maternal healthcare leaders, ensures their participation in workshops and training sessions in different parts of the world, facilitates their attendance at the ICM regional conference and Congress and challenges them to improve maternal and child health through individual and group projects. Harriet had the chance to chair a session titled: Midwives Influencing Safe Motherhood during the ICM Africa Regional Conference in Namibia on September 12-14, 2019.
In an interesting turn of events, her assigned ICM mentor turned out to be Professor Grace Edwards, faculty at AKU-SONAM based in Uganda who has contributed immensely to midwifery globally. She was very excited about Harriet's progress, sharing that, "Harriet has been a shining star throughout the midwifery programme. I was delighted when she was chosen as an ICM Young Midwifery Leader and humbled to be asked to be her mentor. She is a credit to AKU and an inspiration to other young midwives who are following her progress with great interest. Harriet recently lectured our current students and her main message was that: If I can do it, so can you!"