“The Dalai Lama asked me to help the women and children in Tibet. His Holiness’ own mother had seen only seven of her sixteen children survive to adulthood."
– Arlene Samen, President and Founder of One Heart Worldwide
Arlene Samen, a nurse practitioner with over 30 years’ experience in high-risk obstetrics at the University of Utah Health Science Center, had a life-changing encounter with His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, in 1997. At the time, one in ten Tibetan newborns and one in hundred Tibetan pregnant women died during childbirth. His Holiness’ own mother had seen only seven of her sixteen children survive to adulthood. The Dalai Lama asked Arlene to help the women and children in Tibet. There was no turning back for Arlene after that initial meeting. She gave up her clinical practice to dedicate her life to serving pregnant women and their newborn infants living under the most vulnerable conditions and in the most remote places of the world.
Arlene founded One H.E.A.R.T. (Health Education and Research in Tibet), a non-profit organization working with the local community to understand the plight of pregnant women and newborns. She set out to understand the local traditions, and religious and cultural beliefs of women giving birth in Tibet and developed a culturally sensitive, comprehensive and collaborative model to reduce the risk of maternal and infant mortality. Her mission was to train local health providers, community members, families, and mothers in safe birthing practices and to provide them with a safe and clean place to give birth.
Between 1999 and 2009, One H.E.A.R.T. piloted a unique community-based healthcare delivery model in Tibet. Over these ten years, One H.E.A.R.T. successfully developed what is today called the Network of Safety model, a culturally sensitive maternal and newborn program from the village level through the secondary and tertiary healthcare facilities. In collaboration with a team of international experts in maternal and neonatal health, Arlene refined the unique One H.E.A.R.T. model into a simple, effective, replicable, and sustainable approach which was able to decrease unattended home births by 75%, mostly by ensuring the presence of a Skilled Birth Attendant at delivery. In 2008, in the two counties where One H.E.A.R.T was working, the Lhasa Prefecture Health Bureau reported no maternal deaths and newborn death rates dropped 70%. In 2009, One H.E.A.R.T. stepped out of Tibet and turned over their program to the local Tibetan team, who registered themselves as a non-governmental organization. To this day, the previous OHW Tibetan team successfully continues their work with local resources.
The long-term sustainability and demonstrated success of the Network of Safety model led us to expand our operations to other sites in need. In 2010, One H.E.A.R.T. moved its operations to Nepal and simultaneously expanded to a global scale as One Heart Worldwide (OHW), a 501(c)3 registered non-profit organization. OHW subsequently launched the Network of Safety in the pilot sites of Baglung and Dolpa, two of the most remote areas of northern Nepal. At the time, these two districts faced some of the highest maternal and newborn mortality rates in the country, as fewer than 20% of pregnant mothers sought care during their pregnancies or delivered with a trained health worker. By the end of 2018 however, marked improvements in terms of access to care and lives changed could be seen. The number of pregnant women delivering with an SBA quadrupled in Baglung, from 29% to 80%; and increased 20-fold in Dolpa from 3% to 60%. As a result, maternal and newborn deaths were drastically reduced by more than 90% in Baglung (92% and 95% respectively), and over 85% in Dolpa (86% and 89% respectively).
In 2019, OHW is implementing its program in 15 districts across Nepal, representing a population of 3.3 million people and almost 80,000 annual pregnancies. In addition, over the last 5 years, OHW has successfully shared the Network of Safety with several other organizations around the world. We have provided technical assistance to programs in China, Ecuador, Liberia, Mexico and Peru.
One Heart Worldwide continues on its path to bring the Network of Safety to scale and support women and newborns throughout Nepal and globally.