Call the midwife: Six inspiring health workers saving young lives
Every year, 2.6 million babies die within the first 28 days of life. The majority of these deaths occur in developing countries and from preventable causes.
Our volunteers are working around the world, building specialised neonatal care units, training frontline staff and improving access to vital services. Last year, we developed the knowledge and skills of nearly 32,000 health practitioners. This International Day of Midwives (5 May), we’re celebrating the midwives saving the lives of mothers and newborns every day.
Ans: Teaching aftercare, improving lives
Ans Ohms is a Dutch midwife and volunteer in Cambodia. She's sharing her knowledge with 45 health workers who are based across six hospitals. She’s also developed course material which will train a further 120 midwives per year.
Over 10,000 pregnant women will benefit from her work.
Ans was shocked to find that student midwives in Cambodia did not have a great deal of interaction with deliveries - they were only allowed to watch. She developed a method to involve students more in practice. She also teaches aftercare methods, including stitching techniques.
Bharatkumari: Giving women privacy
Bharatkumari Sijapati is a midwife and auxiliary nurse in Nepal and has been mentored by UK volunteer Cath Nixon. Currently just half of women visit the hospital for their antenatal visits, a number they’re hoping to grow.
"Thanks to Cath, I now respect the privacy of patients and the importance of patient rights,” says Bharatkumari.
“Giving the women who visit here their deserved privacy encourages them to return to hospital for potentially life-saving care."
Samantha: Women deserve maternity services
Magway is the region in Myanmar with the highest maternal and neonatal mortality rate. Volunteer Samantha Jane Busby is working in the region at Maternal and Child Health Centres and Rural Health Centres.
Here she’s training and mentoring Lady Health Visitors, Midwives and Auxiliary midwives on standard newborn care.
“I have come to realise my passion not only lies within midwifery, but also within the planning and delivery of midwifery training programs,” she says.
“In the future I will endeavour to continue to volunteer my skills and services to communities in need, in the anticipation of building and strengthening maternity services around the world; which not only do women and their families need, they deserve.”
Sandra: Children are our future doctors
Midwife Sandra Adong works in the new neonatal intensive care unit of the Gulu Regional Referral Hospital in northern Uganda. Years of civil war have weakened the health system here, and it’s struggling to get back on its feet.
“I feel so bad when we lose a baby. Children are the future generation. They are the nurses to be, or the doctors to be. I feel so good when they come back to see us, and their mothers are happy. My wish would be that we could train more people to handle neonates.” Sandra works alongside volunteer Dr Aisling Walsh.
“I learnt a lot from her,” she says. “I learnt how to resuscitate babies - those who are just born and can’t breathe. I know that the most likely things to kill a baby are hypoglycaemia, hyperthermia and infection. She taught me how to manage that.”
Beth: It is our knowledge that saves lives
Midwife Trainer, Beth Connelly, worked at the Holy Family Mission Hospital in Malawi. She’s trained more than 200 students in vital lifesaving skills to help handle birthing complications and ultimately tackle the high maternal and newborn mortality rates in the region.
She introduced a post-natal baby health check list for midwives, nursing staff and students to monitor a newborn’s health within the first 48 hours of birth.
“Many of the midwifery students initially complained to me about the lack of resources in the hospital, so I explained that whilst I understood it was a big issue, we have to learn to be good midwives with no equipment and no resources,” she says.
“Then they observed me with a woman in labour delivering a baby safely, with no resources; and saw for themselves it’s not just about money and resources, rather it is our skills and knowledge that can save a life.
“It’s been wonderful to see how they’ve become more confident and enthusiastic about changing things. The women training as community midwife technicians have each personally delivered around 50 healthy babies during their clinical training already.”
Betty: We really need volunteers
Midwife and qualified nurse Betty Apio oversees the labour ward in Lira Regional Referral Hospital in Uganda, where she’s been working alongside volunteer Gudrun Witt.
“‘Let me go and do midwifery so that I can prevent this from happening right from when the baby is still in the uterus.’ That’s what I said after a time working as a nurse in the neonatal intensive care unit,” she says.
“At Lira Hospital, we are overwhelmed with the number of mothers and we only have few midwives. Sometimes it’s just one midwife to 20 mothers.
“I’ve been working with Gudrun Witt, a VSO volunteer midwife. She’s very supportive and has made a great change in maternity care here.
“We really need volunteers like Gudrun to teach us and work with us to help more mothers. She’s very hardworking and we need her because we have very few midwives on the ground.”
Could you use your skills as a medical professional overseas? Take a look at our latest volunteering roles in healthcare.