Last month Cardiff based charity, Life for African Mothers was chosen by the staff of the Welsh Assembly Government’s [WAG] as charity of the year.
The charity, which was initially called Hope for Grace Kodindo, was founded in 2005, after local neo-natal nurse Angela Gorman decided to tackle the appalling rates of maternal mortality in Sub-Saharan Africa.
She was first inspired to set up the charity after watching a Panorama documentary, Dead Mum’s Don’t Cry, which followed obstetrician, Dr Grace Kodindo in her work in the Hôpital Général de Référence in N’Djamena, Chad.
In Chad, where one in eight pregnancies ends in the death of the mother, there is an expression “a pregnant woman has one foot in the grave”
Listen to what she had to say about watching the programme:
The charity’s strategy is simple; to supply drugs to combat the biggest maternal killers in Sub-Saharan Africa; eclampsia and post-partum haemorrhaging.
These two conditions are responsible for almost half of the deaths of pregnant women in Africa, but can be prevented by drugs which cost less than a chocolate bar.
Mesoprostol, which costs just 15p a tablet, is used to treat eclampsia, which kills 14% of pregnant women if Africa, while post-partum haemorrhaging, responsible for about a quarter of the deaths, is treated by a 55p dose of magnesium sulphate.
The programme, which initially began in Chad, has now been expanded to Nigeria, Somaliland, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Uganda and most recently, Rwanda.
Gorman estimates the charity has saved at least 13, 000 lives since it began work in 2005, and believes in the last 15 months 9,000 women have been saved across the seven countries in which it operates.
In May 2008 Dr Kodindo was able to tell the European Parliament that as a result of the charity’s work, rates of deaths from eclampsia in Chad’s biggest maternity hospital were reduced from 14% to 2.3%, while neonatal mortality was reduced from 23% to 7.3%.
This success is due in part to the limited scope of Life for African Mothers, and the strong links Gorman sets up with the hospitals she supplies. This ensures medication gets to the women who need it and supplies are maintained.
The programme is not the only South Wales charity to be involved in Africa. In 2006, as part of the WAG’s initiative to achieve the UNs Millennium Development Goals [MDG], Rhodri Morgan, then First Minister of Wales gave funding for Wales for Africa, a group of over 20 health organisations which provide aid in Africa.
Life for African Mothers is particularly focused on achieving MDG number 5, maternal health, but as Gorman points out:
“By tackling maternal mortality you can improve the first four goals as well; women create about 70% of the wealth in these countries, which means if we can keep more women alive we can help reduce poverty.
“Keeping mothers alive also means children are more likely to go to school, and child health will improve, so the second and fourth goals can be reached as well.”
Last month she addressed a group of medical students involved in the SGL, and hopes as a result the charity may be able to make future links in Gambia.
One of the students she talked to, Ed Soans said:
“Her [Gorman’s] story is quite inspirational. She is using very simple resources and ideas, and is applying them in effective ways.
“The drugs are really cheap, but very effective”
The charity has been funded through a combination of small donations from individuals, fund raising events [including a Cycle to Africa last month] and larger sums given by organisations.
In 2008 Good Gifts gave a grant of £29,000, which has helped to send medications to Africa, as well as trained NHS workers.
In October OXFAM invited Gorman on a trip to Sierra Leone with a group of Cardiff health care workers, including Peter Lindsay, consultant obstetrician and gynecologist at Llandough Hospital, Penarth.
A decade of civil war has destroyed any health care system that was previously in place. Dr Lindsay told me about the difficulties of providing health care in a post-war country:
According to the World Health Organisation, Sierra Leone is the most dangerous place in the world to give birth, with one in every seven pregnancies ending in the death of the mother.
However, there is evidence the charity’s work is making inroads. In 2007 the Princess Christian Hospital in Freetown delivered 1,500 women, 143 [or almost 10%] of whom died. From June to September 2010 this was reduced to 3% as 100 women out of the 3,600 who were delivered had fatal complications.
There is clearly much work to be done, but slowly things may be improving.