Meet Sister Christine Otai

Meet Sister Christine Otai: Adara’s hero of newborn health

In honour of International Women’s Day, we’re highlighting some of the amazing women at Adara who are advancing access to quality health and education services. They’re our leaders, our protectors, our friends and our hope.

As women around the world continue to be silenced and as we face increasing polarity, conflict and division, we acknowledge the women stepping forward to make a difference for themselves and their communities. Together we can #BreakTheBias.

“We need to empower women on reproductive health information, easy access and decision making,” Sister Christine Otai says. “This will reduce maternal morbidity and mortality in childbearing age.”

To say that Sister Christine Otai is a hero of newborn health in Uganda wouldn’t be an exaggeration. After all, she did receive the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2021 Heroes in Health Awards.

A midwife of more than 30 years, she has saved thousands of lives and continues to impact thousands more through her country-wide mentorship. Her incredible journey began with a respect for the preciousness of life and a hospital nestled in the Ugandan bush. This hospital would go on to become a source of hope for countless people across the country.

Sister Christine came to Kiwoko Hospital in October of 1989 with limited knowledge of the area. Her sister had told her about the hospital’s nursing vacancies. After several stopovers in neighbouring towns, she finally arrived at Kiwoko. She was immediately handed the keys for the hospital, including for the maternity ward.

“When I joined Kiwoko Hospital it didn’t have a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) but it had a maternity ward,” Christine reflects. “That’s because the hospital was just being started and being built up.”

Christine Otai with Cornety Nakiganda

Christine at 2021 Heroes in Health Awards

At the time, the hospital was just a health centre with a handful of maternity beds.

“Before we had the NICU, we would nurse the babies with their mothers in the maternity ward,” Christine explains. “We didn’t have incubators – when we had premature babies, there was nowhere to warm them up, so the mothers would just keep the babies beside them. And we couldn’t do much, not until Adara came to the hospital with the idea of introducing the NICU ward, which began in 2000.”

Christine quicky climbed to become head of the new unit fuelled by her dedication to newborns and their families.

Under her leadership, the NICU experienced a period of huge growth. It transitioned from a small unit with just a few beds, to an established NICU that cares for more than 1,200 babies a year. It is now recognised as a Centre of Excellence. Today, Kiwoko also sits as the heart of AdaraNewborn, our model of newborn care that has the power to halve newborn deaths and stillbirths across 10 Ugandan health facilities. Christine was instrumental is making the NICU the place it is today.

“Even in those early years we saved many lives and eventually we were getting babies from districts near and far,” Christine says. “We had to build a new NICU which we moved into in 2010. As more time went on, within two years, we began having many babies. Our numbers would reach 20… 27… 30… even higher. Today, the unit census can sometimes reach 50 or more.”

In 2017, Christine retired from Kiwoko Hospital after 28 years and joined Adara as the Newborn National Trainer. In this role, she mentors and trains Uganda’s next generation of nurses and midwives. This role is critical in our AdaraNewborn model, as we aim to inspire nurses and midwives across the country to be champions of newborn care at their facilities. We do this by mentoring a network of experienced health workers who will embed change and create resilient systems for ongoing support.

Christine Otai in the Kiwoko NICU

“Having guidance, encouragement and support of a trusted and experienced mentor can provide a mentee with a broad range of personal and professional benefits, which ultimately lead to improved performance in the workplace,” Christine explains.

“Life is saved through mentorship. It also provides an added sense of purpose and responsibility to one’s career.”

Christine has been influential in the establishment of other newborn units, including at Nakaseke Hospital. She is passionate to save newborn lives and determined to share her knowledge with others, no matter how far away.

Christine’s achievements have been internationally recognised. She was a finalist in the 2014 International Midwife Awards, was honoured with the International Neonatal Nursing Excellence Award in 2010 at the International Conference of Neonatal Nurses, and in 2019 she was recognised as a Newborn Champion at World Prematurity Day. Christine was one of Women in Global Health’s 100 Outstanding Nurses and Midwives in 2020.

“My hope for the future of maternal and newborn health in Uganda is maternal health improves by reducing maternal morbidity and mortality, and to reduce the newborn morbidity and mortality,” Christine says.

With Christine taking a central role in our work to drive change and reduce newborn deaths and stillbirths, we know her hope is within reach.

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