Sharing skills saves lives, in a country still living with the impact of Ebola
Sierra Leone's fragile healthcare system was stretched to breaking point by the recent Ebola crisis. Many health workers died and pregnant women were afraid of going to hospital in case of catching the disease.
The maternal death rate in Sierra Leone is now over 100 times that of the UK.
Dr Padma, a GP from London, is working to help rebuild Sierra Leone’s healthcare system.
There are simple things missing at the hospital in which Dr Padma is based. "There are a lot of power cuts. There’s only one water pump for the whole hospital and no running water. There’s no incubator for premature babies. There’s no defibrillator to do CPR and no adrenaline for basic life support."
Things are more challenging still at the rural health clinics, where there is no electricity, and staff often deliver the babies by torchlight.
And yet it is not lack of resources that frustrates Dr Padma the most:
"The most frustrating things I see are patients who have been delayed in getting to hospital. People tend to leave things until it’s too late. I’ve seen very sick children come in and all we can do is resuscitate and it doesn’t always work."
Sharing skills saves lives
In Sierra Leone, awareness raising is one of Dr Padma’s most important jobs.
"The country lost a lot of healthcare staff during Ebola," says Dr Padma, "As a doctor I’m helping build the capacity back up."
"I mainly work with Community Health Officers. They are often volunteers and do most of the health work in the hospital and in the community. They do the deliveries, the antenatal and post-birth care. A lot of my work is training staff to pick things up during the antenatal period so that they can refer patients to hospital earlier and reduce delays."
Dr Padma has seen for herself how skills can save lives.
"Once, I was walking past the ward and I happened to see a baby that wasn’t breathing. I rushed to resuscitate it and save the baby. It was clear that most of the staff didn’t know how to do it properly. So I’ve started training for everyone on the labour wards and also set up a box with fluids, ambu-bags, IC lines so everything you need is in one place for an emergency."
Dangers of delivering at home
Ebola increased people’s fear of attending health clinics and many women here continue to deliver at home with a traditional birthing attendant.
Dr Padma warns, "It’s dangerous. If labour is obstructed, there could be a lot of bleeding and blood pressure and the mother needs urgent treatment. That’s not something you can deal with at home."
Sharing stories is a good way of learning
Despite the challenges, Dr Padma feels strongly that her work is making a vital, and tangible difference.
"Skills will always be appreciated in this country. Charities can leave equipment here but it could break. People might not know how to use it. Training is about passing on a skill. You are more likely to remember the doctor you met many years ago. Sharing stories on is a good way of learning.
"And I love going to work. Every morning I look outside, the sun’s coming up and it feels like it’s going to be a really great day."