Jean Chamberlain Froese, CM, MD, MEd, FRCSC, obstetrician, associate professor, international expert in women’s reproductive health (born 27 March 1965 in St. Thomas, ON). Chamberlain Froese is founding director of Save the Mothers and the founder and co-director of McMaster University’s International Women’s Health Program.
Education and Early Career
Jean Chamberlain Froese received a BSc in biochemistry and her MD (1991) from the University of Toronto, followed by a rotating internship at Toronto East General Hospital in 1992. She completed a Royal College Fellowship in Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Western Ontario ( London, Ontario) in 1996.
In 1997, with the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada, Chamberlain Froese participated in a safe motherhood project in Uganda, where she lived in the rural town of Kigoba and worked with the Association of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Uganda.
Chamberlain Froese later worked as an obstetrician in Yemen, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Pakistan, immersing herself in each position. While working for five years in Yemen, she learned to speak Arabic, taught at a university hospital in Sana’a, aided UNICEF and helped arrange a donation of medical equipment from St. Joseph’s Hospital (Hamilton, Ontario).
Maternal Mortality in Developing Countries
Jean Chamberlain Froese encountered high maternal mortality rates during her work in the developing world, beginning with her trip to Uganda in 1997. The maternal mortality rate was (and remains) particularly high in sub-Saharan Africa. This reality prompted Chamberlain Froese’s pioneering work in global maternal health.
In 2015, the maternal mortality ratio in Uganda was 343 deaths per 100,000 live births, compared to 7 deaths per 100,000 live births in Canada. Moreover, 99 per cent of maternal deaths occur in developing countries, with many of these occurring in sub-Saharan Africa. Most of these deaths are preventable, caused by complications such as infections, bleeding, and unsafe abortions. Major contributing factors to the high mortality rate include lack of money, medicine and transportation, and the need to secure the husband’s permission for surgery.
One of the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals (established September 2000) was to reduce the global maternal mortality rate (from 1990 to 2015) by 75 per cent. In 2015, the World Health Organization reported that the global rate had fallen 44 per cent and the rate in Uganda had fallen by 50 per cent. Only nine countries had met the 75 per cent target, and the maternal mortality rate in sub-Saharan Africa was still higher than anywhere else in the world.
(See also Birthing Practices.)
Save the Mothers
Jean Chamberlain Froese realized that medical efforts were not enough to improve maternal health in developing nations — social, political and cultural changes were needed to solve the problem of maternal mortality. In particular, she noted a discrepancy between the quality of health care provided to women and that provided to men in developing countries.
This prompted Chamberlain Froese in 2005 to found the non-profit organization Save the Mothers, which focuses on the prevention of maternal mortality. With its main campus at Uganda Christian University, Save the Mothers offers a master’s degree in public health leadership. The program educates community leaders such as politicians, journalists, religious leaders and military leaders about the causes of maternal mortality so that they can, in turn, effect positive change in their communities. In particular, it promotes the societal value of mothers and motherhood. In addition, Save the Mothers runs the Mother Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative to improve the safety of labour rooms, equipment and quality of care.
The program has received support from the highest level of Ugandan politics. In 2008, Janet Museveni, the Ugandan First Lady, publicly praised the work of Save the Mothers. Three years later, in October 2011, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni declared that the health of mothers and children would be a government priority.
Chamberlain Froese served as the executive director of Save the Mothers until January 2018. Under her leadership, the organization worked to expand into Tanzania, Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Yemen, Oman and Somalia.
Clinical and Academic Work
A leading expert in women’s reproductive health and safe childbirth practices, Chamberlain Froese has been consulted by the Canadian Prime Minister’s Office as an expert in maternal health (see also Women and Health). She is an associate professor in Obstetrics and Gynecology at McMaster University ( Hamilton, Ontario) and has been an adjunct associate professor in the School of Public Health at the University of Waterloo. Chamberlain Froese is the founder and co-director of McMaster University’s International Women’s Health Program. She also holds a position as an obstetrician at St. Joseph’s Healthcare in Hamilton.
Chamberlain Froese was a guest speaker at the Youth Summit during the G8 meeting in 2010 and has also been invited to speak at the annual general meetings of the Society of Obstetricians/Gynecologists of Canada and the American College of Obstetricians/Gynecologists. She was an invited panelist at the Canadian government’s Summit on Maternal, Newborn and Child Health in 2014 (Toronto, Ontario).
Chamberlain Froese is married to journalist Thomas Froese. They have three children — Elizabeth, Jonathan and Hannah (a Ugandan girl adopted in 2009). From 2005 to 2017, Chamberlain Froese and her family divided their time between Uganda and Canada, living in the Ugandan capital district of Kampala for eight months a year and Ancaster, Ontario, for the remaining four months. In 2017, they settled permanently in Canada.
“I’ve always believed in the principle of local leadership being the best possible leadership, and knew that one day, I would hand off my role as overseer of the Save the Mothers program to capable, local hands.”
— Dr. Jean Chamberlain Froese, on leaving Uganda in 2017
Author, Where Have All the Mothers Gone? (2008)
Co-editor, Women’s Health in the Majority World: Issues and Initiatives (2006)
Co-author (with Patricia Paddey), The Game Changers: True Stories About Saving Mothers & Babies in East Africa (2016)
Honours and Awards
- International Community Service Award, Federation of International Obstetricians/Gynecologists (2006)
- Teasdale-Corti Humanitarian Award for work improving maternal health, Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada (2009)
- Prix d’Excellence for going beyond the call of duty, Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada (2012)
- Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee medal (2012)
- Inductee, Hamilton Gallery of Distinction (2013)
- Mission Legacy Award, The Sisters of St. Joseph, Hamilton (2013)
- Honorary Doctorate of Laws, University of Waterloo (2013)
- Member, Order of Canada (2014)
- Canadian Woman Leader in Global Health, Canadian Society for International Health (2018)