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A mother always remembers her midwife

99% of maternal deaths occur in the developing world, where many women in countries like Uganda give birth without a skilled health worker alongside them.

At the overrun and busy labour ward in Lira Regional Referral Hospital,  volunteer Gudrun Witt is working with students, midwives and doctors to make the birthing process safer for women. Gudrun tells her story

VSO's Gudrun Witt puts together essential delivery packs with sister in charge Betty Apio. © VSO / Peter Caton

VSO's Gudrun Witt puts together essential delivery packs with sister in charge Betty Apio.

“I can describe the labour ward at Lira hospital in one word- chaotic. 

"There are up to 20 deliveries a day. There are four labouring beds right next to each other in the ward, so space is limited. It’s a bit like a train station, bustling, mothers, staff and students making noise and a cleaner with a mop rushing in between.

"Women arrive in various stages of labour. One day I had to drop everything and deliver a baby in the corridor."

A mother always remembers her midwife

Gudrun Witt with a new born baby she helped deliver. © VSO / Peter Caton

Gudrun Witt with a new born baby she helped deliver. 

"I have a real passion for mothers to receive really good care and have a good experience. A mother always remembers her midwife. 

"I volunteered because I was concerned about the rates of maternal mortality in the developing world.  In delivery, eclampsia, post-partum haemorrhage and sepsis cause death when it can be treatable."

"It upsets me that women receive sub-optimal care simply because basic things are missing."

"In places like Uganda, midwives are just out of training school. They don’t have experience behind them and as a volunteer working alongside them I can impart some of the knowledge that only comes from experience - those real, hands-on skills. I take every opportunity to teach the students."

Order from chaos

Ajok Janet is rushed to theatre for a cesarean birth at Lira Regional Referral Hospital, Uganda Peter Caton

Ajok Janet is rushed to theatre for a cesarean birth at Lira Regional Referral Hospital, Uganda

"At the time of delivery here, it’s a scene of absolute chaos; someone calling for one bit of equipment or different tools. So I introduced a delivery pack. This is a wrapped up pack of essential, sterile instruments for each birth that will enable an efficient delivery to minimise infection and bleeding. 

"Another idea was to have a post-partum haemorrhage box and an eclampsia box. It would have everything needed in an emergency. I also got curtains made for the examination room because it was distressing me that women were being examined in a room with no privacy."

Tough moments

"There have been some tough moments.  A woman was in prolonged labour and we anticipated that her baby might unwell. In the morning I checked to make sure that everything needed for resuscitation was there, but an hour later when the baby was being born, someone had borrowed it. I rushed with the baby and there were no masks there. I felt helpless. The mother was extremely worried. I carried on stimulating the baby and I’m pleased to say that the baby got better. 

"I decided that it would not happen again. We used to have a resuscitation corner, which was basically a bench with a cushion and you couldn’t really do much with the baby on it. I was able to get a resuscitation bed, with bag and masks and a dedicated space for the procedure. 

Every birth is a delight

"I like to think having volunteers here has been able to give some sort of direction in Lira. People are demoralised by this environment and having someone with fresh eyes to suggest ways to work a bit better can make little changes that give mothers a healthier, safer experience. 

"I have delivered probably around at least a thousand babies in my career. No two births are the same. It’s a moment of excitement. Every single birth is a delight.”
 

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