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HILLINGDON Hospital midwife Gillian Pearce is used to dealing with visitors of all shapes and sizes, but she had to look twice when a goat wandered through her maternity ward.

The 53-year-old, who lives in Ryeland Close, West Drayton , was volunteering in Uganda on a trip funded by the Rotary Club of Elthorne-Hillingdon.           

HILLINGDON Hospital midwife Gillian Pearce volunteers at a hospital in Uganda, sponsored by the Rotary Club of Elthorne-Hillingdon Gillian Pearce
 

Part of a team that has been training maternity staff at Kamuli Mission Hospital in baby resuscitation and handling emergency births, she is preparing to go back to Uganda for the third time, later this year.

The hospital, which serves around 750,000 people, has one doctor and lacks basic amenities, including running water and a regular power supply.

Its remote location means people often have to walk miles for treatment and families often camp outside to cook for and feed their sick relatives.

Medical supplies are scarce and family members often buy medical supplies themselves at the town’s only pharmacy, which are then administered by hospital staff.

“We had to go back-to-basics to match the lack of training and medical equipment,” said Gillian.

“It was challenging but you have to be flexible enough to come up with solutions that staff can use on a day-to-day basis.”

HILLINGDON Hospital midwife Gillian Pearce volunteers at a hospital in Uganda, sponsored by the Rotary Club of Elthorne-Hillingdon Mum and baby
 

This ranged from simple advice like changing bed sheets between patients and regular hand washing, to drying and wrapping a new born.

“I couldn’t fault the cleaners though. Whatever they cleaned the floor with took the rubber off the soles of my shoes,” she added.

Healthcare in Uganda isn’t free. The cost of delivering a baby at the 160 bed hospital is £10 rising to £35 for a caesarean.

The average daily income is less than £1 a day.

An important part of the team’s work was a ‘train the trainer’ programme so that new hospital employees could pass their skills onto colleagues once the team had returned to the UK.

They used dummies and simulators for training including Mama Natalie, a mannequin that can be strapped to a trainer’s torso to simulate a pregnant womb with an unborn baby.

A second mannequin, Resusci-Anne, was used to practise resuscitating a sick new born baby.

The hospital is responsible for more than 2,000 deliveries a year with a mortality rate 76 babies per 1,000 births and a maternal mortality rate of 506 per 100,000.

This compares to 4.2 per 1,000 at Hillingdon Hospital, which provides neo-natal care from 24 weeks with a midwife-patient ratio of one to 30.

Gillian says the obvious poverty is matched by sometimes frightening ingenuity, such as a baby incubator made out of a glass-fronted packing crate with light bulbs fixed under the board and a tray of water underneath to produce humidity.

Resuscitation techniques were basic. Premature babies are tickled lightly on the chest to stimulate breathing, which had a poor success rate.

“Good basic resuscitation techniques don’t require expensive equipment and is something we were able to easily teach,” said Gillian.

“As a result, we taught them to dry and wrap a baby and use an AMBU (Artificial Manual Breathing Unit) bag to assist with breathing.

“One million babies die around the world on their first day of life so good baby resuscitation is vital,” she explained.

“There are some areas that the midwifes are very well trained in through sheer necessity, including dealing with pre-eclampsia - convulsions - which is aggravated by malaria, and a lot of breech births.”

She says she can’t fault the commitment of staff who turn up every day, despite the often trying circumstances, such as not getting paid for as long as three months.

Some hospitals may question the value of staff volunteering to work in developing countries but Gillian says it benefits individuals and their employers.

“It’s a valuable lesson in resources because you have to make do with what you’ve got and be flexible enough to come up with an alternative if it isn’t,” she said.

“It also teaches you to be practical and a good communicator. You come away with a better understanding of yourself and others and that can only be a good thing.”

For more information about hospitals in Uganda and how you can help, go to www.hhu.org.uk