When Elizabeth Franklin was pregnant with her son in 2017, she was diagnosed with hyperemesis gravidarum (HG). HG is the medical term for severe nausea and vomiting during pregnancy that can lead to malnutrition, dehydration and debility. HG increases the risk of complications for mothers and their babies such as preterm birth, preeclampsia, sepsis, and PTSD. Franklin had HG again during her pregnancy in 2020 and was even sicker. After her daughter was born, she was diagnosed with postpartum depression and PTSD.
As a result of her suffering, she sought community with other Kenyan mothers and created a group called HG Warriors. For two years, Franklin and her team provided social support and taught others about this little-known disease that causes so much misery in families.
The support group led to a desire to improve HG care and education in Kenya. Hyperemesis Gravidarum Foundation Africa was founded in 2022.
Achieving NGO (non-governmental organization) status in Kenya is a lengthy process and a lot of paperwork, said Franklin. But through mistakes and missteps, she was successful. She is glad for the mistakes because now she understands the system and can help others who might want to start a nonprofit.
What is the goal of Hyperemesis Gravidarum Foundation Africa?
The goal of the organization is to spread awareness about HG, educate healthcare workers, and provide support for families in Kenya. Long term, Franklin seeks to reduce maternal and fetal morbidity and mortality due to HG across all African countries.
This means awareness and education, so that every person with HG can enter any hospital and get effective treatment and compassionate support. “Imagine, it doesn’t matter where you walk in. They understand what is wrong and what to do to help. This means mothers receive the medical care and compassion they need.”
Changing the conversation in every country begins at home. Franklin is doing the groundwork of hiring a board, developing a fundraising plan, and developing a product to create a funding stream.
Building the board of directors has been a strategic endeavor. “It’s important to include diverse voices. HG impacts mothers, fathers, families, and healthcare workers. I want them all to be heard.” said Franklin. Having a board made up of doctors, patients, and partners ensures strong decision-making and problem-solving.
The NGO’s measures of success are still being established. Beyond the long-term goal of reduced mortality, they look to prevent unnecessary suffering.
“There is great misunderstanding about HG,” Franklin explained. “In some communities, the severe illness is blamed on the mother or some action or inaction she has taken. In other places, mothers are told they are sick because of a psychological illness.”
About 50 percent of HG patients are diagnosed with perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMADs). This can confuse people about what came first, the vomiting or the anxiety. However, HG is not caused by psychological issues. According to the Hyperemesis Education and Research Foundation, HG is genetic, a finding supported by ongoing research.
What can we learn from Franklin’s journey?
Franklin’s story shows the power personal pain and concern for community can have in the business and nonprofit spheres. Both seek to solve problems and require planning, funding, managing, marketing, staffing, strategy, and energy. The outcomes are different.
“Success is measured differently at a nonprofit, but it is still entrepreneurship. I am an entrepreneur. I am raising awareness and saving lives. I’m not raising profit, but I’m creating sustainable change.
“Nonprofit founders must have a lion’s heart,” said Franklin. Her path to leadership shows she is just that—a true lionheart.
To learn about different nonprofit founders, check out more of Suzanne Drapeau’s featured profiles.