Service That Saves: The New Ugandan Maternity Unit

July 19, 2018

A new Ugandan maternity unit gives healthcare access to all women in a rural Ugandan community.

We love projects that illustrate how design can empower and transform a community, like the story of the new Ugandan Maternity Unit in the city of Kachumbala. Located in Uganda’s Bukedea District, Kachumbala is home to 170,000 people. Until now, the area’s one maternity ward was a two-room, 1950s-era facility that could only accommodate 40 percent of Kachumbala’s expectant mothers, leaving many to have risky births at home. The region consequently suffers from a high infant mortality rate; an estimated 40 children out of every 1,000 don’t live to see their first birthday.

Improving Healthcare Facilities

To improve Kachumbala’s health care facilities, HKS proposed a sustainable, passive maternity facility: The Kachumbala Maternity Unit. The new building plan features delivery suites, prenatal and postnatal facilities, and is designed to support future expansion, while the existing two-room health facility will be repurposed and used for other medical functions.

To build the Ugandan maternity unit, HKS partnered with Engineers for Overseas Development (EFOD), a Wales-based nonprofit, and Cyfle Building Skills, an organization that trains young apprentices in the building trades. The team sought out to create a design solution that would utilize the materials, utilities, and construction techniques available on site. Due to the area’s lack of reliable water and electricity, the new building had to be fully passive and self-sufficient. For example, handmade bricks that form the building’s structure were made on site and baked in the sun, not fired - saving trees from being cut and burned.

Tested & Approved

HKS tested the new Ugandan maternity unit design with the assistance of UK-based health professionals, who also provided midwife support and training for local healthcare providers. Now, less than a year old, the new 3,000-square-foot Kachumbala Maternity Unit accommodates up to six births each day, the average for the region. All women in the district now have access to a safe place to give birth.

In an HKS blog post, Ellen Mitchell-Kozack, director of sustainability for HKS and founder and co-director of Citizen HKS, wrote that her journey to Kachumbala and involvement in the project changed her perspective on the world. “Spending time with the people of this far away community showed me that opportunities I take for granted such as access to jobs, education, and healthcare are hard to come by in Uganda,” she wrote. “In Kachumbala, people hold a sense of belonging and connectedness to the community that is increasingly missing for me back home. I think that connectedness to a greater whole – to one another and the earth – leads to happiness and fulfillment in a way that mindless consumerism never will.”

Citizen HKS: How to get involved

Citizen HKS, HKS’ social impact initiative, is a great example of how one architect firm is using its platform to improve lives and drive change for communities in need. Try following the charitable platform’s three simple steps below and see what changes you’re capable of making in your own community.


Citizen HKS begins each project by asking, “How can our work improve the world?” Have your team set guiding principles that inform the projects you choose to take on and will help drive design. For example, set a guideline to create scalable design solutions with the potential to be replicated to serve other communities, or one that states you design with an egalitarian approach.


Citizen HKS challenges its team to do more than design, looking to create stronger community connections through their work. Try hosting an annual “Week” or “Month of Service.” Raise money for worthy non-profits, help rebuild homes, volunteer at schools and food banks, clean parks or beaches, bring local shelter pets in for a day at the office...the options are endless. If your business has more than one office, make sure they all join in!


Lastly, you can always encourage your employees to make financial contributions to your organization’s shared commitments. Fundraising campaigns are an easy way for all to get involved. If working between multiple offices, making it a competition by seeing who can raise the most funds with a celebratory lunch for the winner.

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About the Author

Adrian Schley | Associate Editor

Adrian Schley is an Associate Editor for i+s, where she has been covering the commercial interior design industry since 2018. Her work can also be found in BUILDINGS and Meetings Today. 

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