Tackling high maternal mortality rates in Ethiopia
Dr Kate Darlow, an obstetrician and gynaecologist, spent six months helping to train health workers and share skills in Ethiopia.
Ethiopia has high maternal mortality rates but lacks the people and training resources to increase the skills of health workers at the scale that's needed to make impactful improvements.
What did your role in Ethiopia involve?
I worked closely with selected members of staff at Felege Hiwot Hospital in Bahir Dar. I delivered training workshops alongside another VSO volunteer that covered dealing with emergencies related to giving birth, and neonatal resuscitation as well as the basic care that’s required when a baby’s born. Those who receive the training become trainers themselves so the skills are passed on increasingly widely.
I also worked with staff put in place simple processes that will enable staff here to improve record-keeping without adding too much to the workloads of the overstretched staff here. Trying to tackle maternal mortality is a big job. Even making small changes can have a big impact in this sort of a setting.
What did you achieve as a volunteer?
It’s great to see skills I have shared being passed on by the trainers. One of the doctors who did the workshop – Rahel, one of our trainers – was anaesthetising a patient that I was doing a caesarean section on, and once the baby was delivered, it was handed over to the midwife. The midwife was trying to resuscitate the baby, but there were poor signs of life. Rahel, our trainer, stepped in, and was able to provide resuscitation and save the baby that might otherwise have died. So there was a good outcome in the end, as a result of her attending our training workshop.
What was it like working in Ethiopia?
My work here in Ethiopia is different in every way that you can imagine to what it would be in the UK. My day is much more flexible and unpredictable. We don’t have the same staffing here as you would expect to have at home. There isn’t always the same senior support, so a lot of the junior doctors are doing more advanced things than back home.
Only 51% of Ethiopia’s hospitals provide full emergency obstetric and neonatal care, so when birthing complications occur, it can often result in loss of life. Being here really matters.
Although it’s a really challenging job and you deal with really difficult things every day, the staff are amazing and really friendly. They’ve totally accepted me in the department and are really warm.
Did you gain anything from volunteering?
The experience has been invaluable in terms of ongoing training. I’ve seen complications that you wouldn’t often see in the UK, and developed my management and interpersonal skills. This experience provides you with things that you would never get from any UK training programme. There’s a wealth of clinical situations to learn from on a daily basis, so it counts for so much more than you would ever learn in a year at home.
What would you say to someone thinking of volunteering with VSO?
"If you’re thinking about doing VSO, then you should do it, because you’ll regret it if you don’t."
I think everybody has barriers to overcome to do VSO. It’s always a big step to make the decision, for your family to accept that you’ve made that decision, and then to leave behind all the things that you’re doing at home. The mortgage... it can be paid later. When I told people about it and what I could be doing, everyone was really supportive. I had to put certain things on hold for a while, but I think my family, friends and colleagues all recognises that I’m learning so much from being here, and most of them are very envious!
If you’re thinking about doing VSO, then you should do it, because you’ll regret it if you don’t. The hardest jump is just getting yourself organised and getting out here. And once you’re here, that’s the easy bit. So once you’ve sorted out your life at home, and your mortgage or whatever your issues are, then you’re here and it’s brilliant…you forget about everything at home. Life experiences are worth so much more than a salary