Thursday, 17 December 2009

Starting with Health Unlimited

I started my World of Difference year on Monday. I have been preparing for the coming 12 months in Sierra Leone at the Health Unlimited office in London over the last week. It's been great to finally start my placement after finding out I was one of the 8 winners back in September.

I have been a midwife for 9 years so have a strong belief that pregnancy and childbirth should be a positive and empowering experience for families. When I started my midwifery training in 1997, my long term aim was to work with women and children in developing countries to tackle the tragedy of high maternal and infant mortality rates. Maternal mortality impacts negatively, not just on the woman and her immediate family but also on the wider community and country as a whole.

Last year I was able to spend 6 months volunteering through Voluntary Services Overseas as a Midwife Trainer in Sierra Leone. I worked in Magbenteh Community Hospital in Makeni which is the largest town in Bombali District. My role was to work with Midwives and other maternity workers to develop the maternity service and improve collaboration with the government District Health Management Team.

During this 6 month period I supported midwives to improve and develop systems to ensure the maternity unit functioned well. I provided teaching and on the job training for midwives to improve essential practical skills such as neonatal resuscitation. I facilitated the planning and implementation of a new antenatal clinic service in conjunction with the District Health Management Team.

Sierra Leone has the highest maternal and infant mortality in the world. This is caused by many factors including lack of knowledge of pregnancy danger signs, little access to or uptake of antenatal care, limited access to skilled birth attendants and cultural preferences of giving birth at home with Traditional Birth Attendants. These problems are compounded by poor infrastructure making reaching a health facility hard and meaning that even on reaching a health facility receiving quality maternity care may be difficult.

Over the next year I will be training and supporting midwives and other maternity workers in safe motherhood and basic emergency obstetric care. I'll also be working with Traditional Birth Attendants, who help to deliver babies at home, encouraging them to advise women on how to keep themselves and their babies healthy.

The past week has been spent preparing for the coming year. I feel extremely privileged to have this opportunity and I can't wait to go back to Sierra Leone to work with midwives and families to try and make pregnancy safer.