Sierra Leone has the highest maternal mortality rate in the world. In this very poor country, the cultural preference is for the majority of expectant mothers to give birth at home. In villages without access to treatment from midwives and facing long distances on bad roads to get to hospital, conditions that can easily be treated in the UK often result in devastating consequences for women in Sierra Leone.
Zoe is being sponsored through the Vodafone World of Difference programme to work for the charity, Health Unlimited. She arrived in the Bombali District, Sierra Leone on 6 January 2010 to begin her placement.
Northern Bombali district is a remote area and the last to be disarmed after the civil war which ended in 2002. The area has a very small number of trained midwives and Zoe will work in a community based role providing training and support to carers to strengthen existing teams.
Zoe graduated from UWE in July 2000 and spent a year working in St Michael’s Maternity Hospital, Bristol before working in the United Arab Emirates and then moving to London. Zoe really enjoyed her experience at UWE and believes that the placement opportunities she had access to on the course have helped her successful development as a midwife.
Zoe explains, “I had always wanted to become a volunteer with Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) before I began my midwifery training at UWE. But first I wanted to make sure I had built up enough experience before applying so I could make best use of my skills and training in this environment.
“In 2008 I spent six months as a volunteer with VSO in Makeni, Sierra Leone helping to improve care for mothers in a small community hospital. My experience had many highs and lows, it was heartbreaking to see mothers and babies die unnecessarily because of a lack of knowledge of pregnancy related complications and problems with infrastructure. We only had electricity for a few hours each day and there is a massive problem with mosquitoes and malaria. However, it was so rewarding to see what a difference I could make. I was able to train staff in new areas such as newborn resuscitation and facilitate setting up a much needed new Antenatal Clinic which provided an invaluable service to local women.
“In return, the midwives shared their knowledge with me. I learnt about conditions I’d never encountered back home and developed a greater understanding of Sierra Leone’s culture which I was able to put into practice when I returned to London, caring for many women from West Africa.”
Zoe says Bristol is a great city to study in with great links to the healthcare sector. She explains, “We were really fortunate to have been taught by good lecturers with a real cross-section of experience. They’ve established good clinical partnerships with local hospitals; I got to do placements at both St Michael’s and Southmead Hospitals. It was such a confidence booster to get real world experience of different maternity care settings and made it much easier to integrate when I started out as a midwife.
“It’s nearly 10 years since I first graduated as a midwife from UWE, I’ve been fortunate to have worked in a supported environment with good access to high quality training. It’s so rewarding to be able to work to improve health for women and children in Sierra Leone, through sharing the knowledge and skills I have had access to at home, with health workers there.”
There are many opportunities to work/volunteer abroad as a midwife, as training in the UK is so highly regarded. Julie Hobbs, Professional Lead (Midwifery) and Lead Midwife for Education said “It’s wonderful to hear that Zoe is devoting her experience and skills to such a rewarding cause and that she feels the training and education she received at UWE, helped provide her with the resilience and willingness to travel and provide midwifery care in countries such as Sierra Leone.”
To learn more about Zoe’s experience in Sierra Leone, visit http://www.zoevowles.blogspot.com
For more course information see:
BSc Hons) Midwifery
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Jane Kelly or Mary Price, Press Officers
Tel: 0117 32 82208, Fax 0117 32 82341