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The strength of a mother

Dr Aisling Walsh from Limerick volunteered with VSO Ireland in Gulu, Uganda, where the neonatal mortality rate is ten times higher than in Ireland. While on placement, Aisling shared her skills with local midwives and nurses to save babies' lives. Here she outlines how simple measures can make a huge difference in Uganda.

Kevin Auma returns to Gulu Regional Referral Hospital for a routine check up with her baby, who needed resuscitation at birth. 

Ugandan mothers are so strong. They don't complain about pain or bleeding. They do what's best for their baby.

It's awful seeing mothers sleeping on the hospital floor, especially when they've just been through labour. But they want to be near their babies, and there's nowhere else for them to stay. We often have to remind them to look after themselves too.

A shortage of skills, space and equipment

The differences with Europe are huge. In the hospital where I'm volunteering in Uganda, there are only four medical consultants. There are no care assistants or porters and none of the support staff you'd expect back home. Space is a big issue. Essential drugs are often missing.

VSO has helped supply some of the kit, which is good, but we have power cuts and water levels are also low.

The unfairness of it all does upset me. If you were born somewhere else your chances are different. The death rate for newborns in Uganda is about 10 times higher than in Europe.

Delish Ayoo and baby Angel (6 months) in the waiting area outside the maternity ward and NICU at Gulu Regional Referral Hospital.

Simple solutions

The death rate is something that can be massively reduced with cost-effective and simple techniques. Almost all of the babies born with a breathing issue just need some basic methods like drying, warming, or helping their breathing with an ambu bag (resuscitator). It's easy to teach and easy to do.

As a neonatal health advisor, I work with the medical and nursing students, the labour ward staff and post-natal staff.

I use a resuscitation mannequin to help staff practice getting their equipment ready, practice with the ambu bag (resuscitator) or chest compressions. Once I'm gone, the midwives know exactly what to do to stimulate a baby that doesn’t breathe for itself.

Basic skills

You don't always need equipment when a properly taught set of basic skills will save lives. When a mother comes running to you with her baby in her arms and you can do a few simple things to save it so that the baby can go home, it's so satisfying.

It's even better when that family can come back and proudly show you their child and how well they're doing.

Working to save lives

It's upsetting to see newborn babies die when you know that some simple resuscitation could have prevented that. It's my hope that this Christmas more people will donate to VSO to help save these babies' lives.

I've seen first hand how simple training and basic equipment can be the difference between life and death. 

You can help

A donation from you this Christmas could help provide an infant resuscitator, which can save babies who are struggling to take their first breath. Please donate what you can today.

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