By John Wahlund, Area of Focus Manager for Maternal and Child Health & Disease Prevention and Treatment
I asked the mother what the child’s name was and she answered “Felipe”. I told her one of my best friends was Brazilian and his name was Felipe. She gave me an enormous hug and kiss on the cheek and thanked me and every Rotarian in the world for saving her baby’s life.
This remarkable and memorable interaction occurred during one of three Future Vision Maternal and Child Health Pilot project evaluations I conducted in São Paulo, Brazil. Rotarians have partnered with the most dedicated and reputable public health care hospitals in this vibrant city of more than 12 million people.
In São Francisco de Assisi Hospital, Rotarians, with the support of a pilot global grant, doubled the incubator and Intensive Care Unit capacity, providing lifesaving services to critically ill newborn babies. Rotarians also strengthened community health services by developing public television health education shows directed towards young adults and pregnant women. All 22 incubators were in use during my visit and there is always a waiting list. The gratitude expressed by attendant moms was overwhelming, as was the sight of these premature infants clinging to life.
In the city center on acres of private wooded land sits the major public health medical center of São Paulo, Santa Casa de Misericordia. Built in the 1500s, it has been maintained and upgraded and today is the preeminent teaching and treatment center dedicated to serving the poor and marginalized. With funds from a global grant and a 3:1 match from other partners, Rotarians established the hospital’s first on-site human milk bank to provide donor milk to critically ill newborns spending months in intensive care. During my visit the Rotarians and their partners ‘christened’ the bank with a mobile van for collecting and distributing milk to three other public health hospitals. The smiles and hugs from the moms lasted all day.
Several hours’ drive north (yet still in São Paulo) sits one of the many growing mini-cities, Osasco. The entire staff of the Hosptial e Maternidade Amador Aguiar turned out for a thankful moment of silence and then a very vocal thank you to the Rotarians who had arranged my visit. This is the only public health maternity hospital available for a population of more than 800,000. We sat in on an amazingly intimate and professional group education and counseling session for young women wanting to learn how to do the right things for their delicate infants and themselves. Also supported by the global grant was a state of the art ‘milk donor’s room’ providing maximum comfort, sanitation and reassurance to the many donors the Rotarians have helped recruit through years of conducting health campaigns.
I was hosted by so many wonderful Rotarians and their medical provider partners. Sincere thanks to all of them for letting me into this world of care and support under such sensitive conditions. A special thanks for extraordinary time and effort in hosting me goes to:
Rotarians Valter Maike, Antonia Abdullah and Remo Battaglia, Rotary Club São Paulo-Sudeste (São Francisco de Assisi Hospital project)
- Rotarians Murilo Norcia and President Pedro Jose Manfrin Rotary Club-Barra Funda, Yoiti Fujwara, Rotary Club Sao Paulo Aeroporto and Emira Maria Aranha Gazel, Rotary Club de São Paulo Pacaembu (Santa Casa Misericordia project)
- Rotarians Dra. Simone Cristina Gomes Silveira, Teresinha Pinto, and Daneil and Orlando Fanale (Maternity Hosptial Amador Agular project)
- My intrepid interpreter and friend, Fernanda Christina De Oliveria Leme
- The wonderful staff of the Rotary International Office, Brazil for all arrangements and support.