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No More Shall There Be an Infant That Lives But a Few Days

Since 2009, Westminster Church in Charlottesville has dedicated nearly $100,000 from its benevolence fund to saving the lives of women and babies in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

The relationship began when congregation member David Strider, a nurse practitioner with UVA Health, applied to the church’s grants committee on behalf of a program to train Congolese nurses as advanced nurse-midwives.

At that time, the maternal mortality rate in DRC was 0.56 percent (555 deaths per 100,000 live births), double the estimated global figure (0.26 percent). The infant mortality rate (probability of death in the first year of life) was 8.6 percent, also twice the worldwide estimate of 3.8 percent.

PROSAMI provides healthcare for women and infants during pregnancy and until the babies reach one year.

The program was the vision of Strider’s colleague, registered nurse Agnes Kanyanya, who was personally invested in improving maternal and infant health in her home country after the death of her mother during the birth of a child.

Kanyanya asked Strider to serve as president of the nonprofit she founded to put her plan into action. She named the organization PROSAMI, an acronym derived from “promotion of maternal and infant health” in French, one of the country’s official languages.

In 2015, PROSAMI welcomed its first class of midwife students. They spent eight months training in Virginia before heading back to DRC for 10 months of supervised on-site work at PROSAMI’s facility in Mbuji-Mayi, DRC. The inaugural class of four became team leaders for subsequent classes, with staff and students in DRC connecting via videoconference to educators in Virginia and South Africa.

PROSAMI founder Agnes Kanyanya (third from right) poses with some of the nurse midwives her program has trained to improve healthcare in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Westminster Church’s support of PROSAMI has deepened over the years. In addition to the benevolence grants, Westminster also hosts an annual yard sale and educational dinner with proceeds going to PROSAMI. These financial contributions, as well as donations from other organizations and individuals, have helped PROSAMI grow in DRC.

Renovations to PROSAMI’s training facility created rooms for offices and patient care. It now provides laboratory services and dispenses basic medications for peripartum mothers. For emergency c-sections, the facility is equipped with an operating table. It also has an incubator for two infants.

Nearly 60 nurses have graduated from the program or are current students. They have helped 744 mothers deliver children, tackling issues like shoulder dystocia, breech presentation, and postpartum hemorrhage. In a significant improvement over national statistics, the center has experienced no maternal deaths and only two infant deaths.

PROSAMI works with the DRC Ministry of Health to seek support and funding to spread the midwife training program throughout DRC. Expansion plans include constructing a larger training and care facility with a well to supply water to the center and its neighbors.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo is the second largest country by area in Africa and about a quarter the size of the United States. Its population in 2020 was 89.56 million.