A Mother's Day gift: safer births in Sierra Leone
How British doctors are helping to save the lives of more mums and their babies
This Mother's Day we're highlighting how UK aid is helping two million women to deliver their babies safely in the world's poorest countries.
For mums-to-be like Musu, giving birth can be a matter of life and death.
She's gone into labour in one of the most dangerous places in the world to have a baby – Sierra Leone. Here, one in four deaths of women at child-bearing age happen during pregnancy and childbirth. One in eleven babies are lost before their first birthday.
Musu is one of the lucky ones. She's just given birth to a healthy baby boy. With access to free care from skilled doctors, nurses and midwives at the maternity hospital in Freetown, she delivered without a problem.
UK aid responded to a request from the Government in Sierra Leone to launch free healthcare for pregnant and breast-feeding women and children under five in 2010. As a result 39,000 more women are delivering their babies in health facilities.
But in poor countries like Sierra Leone, there's not always enough medical staff and know-how at hand with such a demand on services. Around half of all the women giving birth here have to do so without a skilled health worker present.
Hands on help Help is at hand through British volunteers though, like Dr Mohamed Yilla from Aberdeen. He's part of a scheme – funded by UK aid and UNICEF – that is helping to cut the high numbers of deaths in mothers and babies in poor countries.
"Working as an Obstetrician in a busy UK maternity unit leaves staff with a sense of achievement for providing good outcomes for both mother and baby.
"Seven hours across the Atlantic, Sierra Leone offers a completely different reality, despite resilient staff working in extraordinary circumstances" says Dr Yilla.
The initiative – called Making it Happen – takes skilled health workers like Dr Yilla from Britain to share lifesaving expertise with doctors, nurses and midwives in countries across Africa and Asia.
They deliver courses designed by the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, an international research centre that leads on maternal and newborn health.
The scheme teaches hands-on skills through real life scenarios that reflect the local working conditions.
Looking to the future The midwives at Freetown's maternity hospital are already putting the training they had into practice.
Their new knowledge helps them to deal with the main causes of mothers' deaths – including severe bleeding and obstruction during birth. It also covers care for new babies, early warning signs of a problematic birth and emergency help like resuscitation and surgical skills.
The initiative not only teaches lifesaving skills, it also coaches local staff to be trainers themselves, so they can pass on their skills to new doctors, nurses and midwives in the future.
These local tutors gradually take responsibility for delivering the courses in Sierra Leone, with less need for British support.
Living proof Musu's healthy baby boy is living proof that the scheme is paying off. Both she and her son are back at home and doing well.
They’re not the only ones. Mothers' deaths have reduced by nearly 30% in hospitals trained up by the Making it Happen scheme, while the number of babies dying was cut by around 15%.
"The Making it Happen Programme continues to save mothers and their babies lives. I have witnessed remarkable cases of staff using these new skills with life changing outcomes" explains Dr Yilla.
Thanks to the new initiative, more mums like Musu and their newborn babies can look forward to a brighter future.
Facts and stats
By the end of 2011, the Making it Happen project had trained more than 500 health workers in Sierra Leone alone.
So far, it has helped skill up over 2,700 medical staff across Bangladesh, Kenya, India, Sierra Leone and Zimbabwe.
Over half a million women have received better care as a result of Making it Happen over the last three years and the rate of maternal deaths reduced in all of those countries.
Making it Happen is a joint project, funded by UK aid from the British Government and delivered by Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and in close collaboration with the Ministry of Health of each country, Professional Associations and development partners including UNICEF, WHO and UNFPA.
In 2010, as a result of the free healthcare initiative in Sierra Leone - supported by UK aid - over 12,000 complications during childbirth were managed in health facilities with 60% more women surviving.
All pictures have been supplied by SafeHands for Mothers, a UK registered charity founded in 2003, which aims to contribute to reducing maternal and newborn mortality through the production of documentaries that raise awareness, educate, train and influence policy towards the health of mothers, newborns and their families. Visit www.safehands.org