TERREWODE is excited to announce that, thanks to the generous support of The Uganda Fistula Fund for TERREWODE, it has recently procured six acres of land in Soroti, which will be used to construct the first hospital devoted to treating fistula in Uganda. Architectural renderings of the future hospital, which will be called TERREWODE Women’s Community Hospital, are well underway and include a three-phase plan for construction. The first phase will bring much-needed specialized obstetric fistula treatment services, along with a social reintegration and rehabilitation center to Uganda, while future phases will add comprehensive maternity and pediatric services to the hospital’s capabilities.
This exciting news is the product of over a decade of dreaming, planning and hard work on behalf of TERREWODE. I sat down recently with TERREWODE’s Executive Director, Alice Emasu, to get the story behind the idea for the hospital.
“The dream of a women’s hospital really came from the community,” Emasu tells me. “Its genesis is very much grassroots. Starting back around 2005, I began hearing from women and men everywhere that Uganda needed a hospital to deal with fistula and maternal and child health.”
At that time, Emasu had already founded TERREWODE and was keenly aware of how limited the capacity was to treat obstetric fistula in Uganda. The only treatment option for women were fistula surgical camps, which were sponsored sporadically at Soroti and Kitovu Hospitals by AMREF and missionary groups, respectively. These camps were largely staffed by international surgeons, who would fly in for one or two weeks to perform surgeries and then leave. The camps only occurred about once a year, and were entirely dependent on donations and grants to operate. “I remember getting funding from the EU to lead a massive awareness campaign in the Teso sub-region of Uganda back in 2007,” Emasu recalls. “I mobilized over 300 women with obstetric fistula for treatment, only to find out that AMREF’s funding had been scaled back and that Uganda only had the capacity to treat 15 women.”
“I felt totally defeated,” Emasu recalls. “We finally were finding and mobilizing women for treatment, only to find that it wasn’t available. I was frustrated that we were so dependent on donations and grants to help women. I wanted a lasting solution.”
So Emasu responded to the voices of the community by promising that TERREWODE would build a hospital devoted to treating fistula in Uganda. “Once I had made that promise, I knew I had to make it happen. I had no idea how I would make it happen, but I knew I had to.”
Emasu’s commitment eventually led her to The Brown School of Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis in 2008. “It was not by mistake that I chose to go to the U.S.,” Emasu tells me. “For one, I knew that that was where the funding opportunities were. But also, I had read that there used to be fistula in the U.S. and that it had been eradicated. I remember thinking: ‘The U.S. is a giant; if I can learn what strategies they used to eliminate fistula, maybe that will help address the problem for countries like Uganda.’”
When she arrived in St. Louis, Emasu received an e-mail from a colleague in Uganda suggesting that she meet a renowned American fistula surgeon named Dr. Lewis Wall, who was also the founder of the Worldwide Fistula Fund. Her colleague in Uganda told her that Wall had been working on building a fistula hospital in Niger and that he thus might be a useful resource for her. “I don’t even think she realized I was in the U.S.,” Emasu recalls, laughing at the serendipity of it all. “God opens door, you know?”
In fact, not only was Emasu in the same country as Wall; she was at the same school. Emasu and Wall met within a week of her arriving in St. Louis; they have since established a long and rich partnership. “He was the first person I reached out to about my idea for a hospital. And he was the first to buy into it.”
Before Emasu returned to Uganda, she was introduced to Bonnie Ruder by Wall. Ruder would eventually go on to found The Uganda Fistula Fund for TERREWODE after spending eight months working with TERREWODE and the Soroti Regional Hospital as a midwife in Uganda. “When Bonnie asked how she could help TERREWODE when she was leaving, I told her that what we really needed was a charity in the U.S. to fundraise for the hospital. Bonnie helped make that a reality.”
Since returning to Uganda, Emasu has worked tirelessly towards making her dream a reality. “Now we have the land, we have the funding, we have the people and we have the support. It feels great to see everything finally coming together.”
The procurement of land marks the first major accomplishment on the road to building a world-class fistula hospital in Uganda. TERREWODE plans to break ground on phase 1 of hospital development in December of 2017.