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Giving birth – is a matter of life and death

News

By Dr Andrew Browning, Barbara May Foundation’s Founder & Medical Director

We are so proud to call Dr Andrew Browning one of our own,  a ‘local’, as he has a steep family history in the Southern Highlands working as a well known gynaecologist and obstetrician in Bowral. He was also awarded the medal of the Order of Australia in 2004 for his service to medicine, particularly as an obstetrician and gynaecologist, and to the community of Bowral and the surrounding districts. He comes from a long line of missionaries in his family, so it came as no surprise and seems almost inevitable that he would end up working for almost 20 years as a fistula surgeon dealing on a daily basis with the tragic results of obstructed labour amongst some of the poorest women in Africa. 

“In Australia’s lovely cities, with our world-class maternity facilities and brilliant midwives and doctors, we can take childbirth for granted. We fully expect that our wives, sisters, daughters, friends will complete their journey of pregnancy with a birth assisted by knowledgeable and caring health professionals in clean and safe environments.   Conversely – today, as you read this, up to 500 women around the world – more than half of those in sub-Saharan Africa where we work, will go into labour and die while giving birth. Many more will suffer crippling and distressing injuries such as obstetric fistula. In those countries – giving birth is a matter of life and death”, Dr Andrew Browning said. 

Calmbirth supports and praises the amazing work of Dr Andrew Browning and the Barbara May Foundation in its efforts to transform the lives of women, babies and their families and improving maternal health in those areas.  

 

 

History of the Barbara May Foundation

Established in 2009, the Barbara May Foundation (BMF) provides funding to Australian medical professionals Valerie Browning AM and Dr Andrew Browning. They run projects in Tanzania and Ethiopia that relieve the high incidence of death and extreme injury in pregnancy and childbirth. They provide safety, dignity and hope to women in areas where safe medical care is lacking. Maternal healthcare and medical services are provided at no cost, regardless of race or religion.

In an effort to assist the more than two million women estimated to be suffering with existing obstetric fistula injuries throughout Africa, Andrew has helped establish fistula units and/or train the local doctors in fistula surgery in Malawi, Sierra Leone, Kenya, Chad, Uganda, Congo, Somaliland, South Sudan, Togo, Nepal, India and Bangladesh. He also consults on global maternal healthcare issues to United Nations Fund for Population Activities and co-chairs the global fistula training program through the International Federation of Gynaecology and Obstetricsand writes all their training material.

Valerie runs the first hospital built with funds provided by the Foundation, the Barbara May Maternity Hospital, in Mille in the Horn of Africa, considered to be one of the harshest and least resourced environments in the world.

My Story

By Dr Andrew Browning, Foundation’s Founder & Medical Director

I am an Australian trained obstetrician and gynaecologist and have worked in Ethiopia and Tanzania for more than 16 years as a senior fistula surgeon. I first came to Africa to do my medical elective term on the Tanzanian/Rwandan border at the beginning of the Rwanda genocide in 1993. In 1996 I visited my aunt, Valerie Browning and Dr Catherine Hamlin at the famous Hospital By The River in Addis Ababa and was immediately invited to work there.

I worked in Addis Ababa for five years. In 2006, my family and I moved to Bar Hirdar in the northern, Amhara region of Ethiopia where I started the first regional Hamlin Fistula hospital. While there, I sought ways to reduce the incidence of birth injury, usually obstetric fistula, and the high maternal death rate.

In the early days of my involvement in the region, the situation was quite desperate for young women. In one of the local tribes it was the tradition that they would continue with heavy manual work – digging the fields and gathering food and water, often miles away from their village – whilst pregnant, right up until their delivery. When the delivery time came close, they would have to go by themselves into the bush and wait until the baby was born, out of earshot and with no one to help, not even a place to shelter from the wind and rain. They would either come back with a live child, a dead child and badly injured from a prolonged labour, or not at all.

To improve the provision of maternal health services, the Amhara regional health bureau was very keen for me to organise volunteer midwives and obstetricians to provide emergency maternity services in district hospitals where there were no services, and to train the local staff. In our first hospital in Mota it was the first time in the history of the area that women could get a life-saving caesarean delivery. The area’s population was 1.2 million.

In the Afar desert area of Ethiopia, with a population of 1.5 million there were no safe places at all for women to deliver their babies so about 96% gave birth in their huts in their villages. As a result, one in 12 women would die trying to have their baby. My Aunt, Valerie Browning had been working in that area for 25 years, training and equipping health workers which did a great deal to reduce the number of women dying, but they desperately needed a hospital. We teamed up and built a maternity hospital to stop women from dying and/or getting badly injured with fistula.

I needed funds to carry out this work and this is when the Barbara May Foundation was founded in Australia with the help of my obstetrician father, Dr David Browning in 2009.

In Australia’s lovely cities, with our world-class maternity facilities and brilliant midwives and doctors, we can take childbirth for granted. We fully expect that our wives, sisters, daughters, friends will complete their journey of pregnancy with a birth assisted by knowledgeable and caring health professionals in clean and safe environments.   Conversely – today, as you read this, up to 500 women around the world – more than half of those in sub-Saharan Africa where we work, will go into labour and die while giving birth. Many more will suffer crippling and distressing injuries such as obstetric fistula. In those countries – giving birth is a matter of life and death.

To date, we have upgraded and run five maternity hospitals and successfully handed them back to the government with local trained staff, after approximately three years of intervention. Not only have countless lives been saved, but jobs and training have been created for women and this in turn creates stronger families and communities.

We have also built and now run our own maternity hospitals offering free care for poor women. There are two in Ethiopia and one – just opening as we speak – in Tanzania. These three hospitals will have the capacity to provide free, safe birth and allied maternal health services for up to 6,000  women a year. We will also be providing obstetric fistula outreach and repair in all three sites.

In addition, each unit will continue to train midwives and improve the skills of maternal health carers in general.

In Australia’s lovely cities, with our world-class maternity facilities and brilliant midwives and doctors, we can take childbirth for granted. We fully expect that our wives, sisters, daughters, friends will complete their journey of pregnancy with a birth assisted by knowledgeable and caring health professionals in clean and safe environments.   Conversely – today, as you read this, up to 500 women around the world – more than half of those in sub-Saharan Africa where we work, will go into labour and die while giving birth. Many more will suffer crippling and distressing injuries such as obstetric fistula. In those countries – giving birth is a matter of life and death.

We are extremely grateful to Calmbirth for its support of the Barbara May Foundation and the women we are helping in Africa.

If you would like to donate to the Barbara May Foundation please visit our website: http://www.barbaramayfoundation.com

 

 

 

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