Andrew, who is an Honorary Rotary Member of Rotary Club of Kincumber moved to Africa seventeen years ago. However of recent he has moved back to Australia and is currently living at Copacabana on the Central Coast NSW with his wife and two sons. He commutes to Africa on a regular basis doing fistula surgical repairs, with a plan to go back next month of October. His first son William was born in Ethiopia in 2005-the most memorable day of his life. When asked how different is it raising children in Africa? He says it is the “same parenting difficulties, just in a different context”. An example is when you say to your child “don’t play with your food” - in Africa live sheep is food, when William saw the beheading of the sheep, he asked them to put the head back on!
In Ethiopia, there is no safe hospital and maternity services. They were lucky to have capacity to have Stephanie (Andrew’s wife) deliver in Dubai. And because the biggest obstetric risk is being married to an Obstetrician, Stephanie required emergency caesarian section and firstborn William required neonatal intensive care – if they had stayed in Ethiopia to deliver, both mom and child may not have survived!
Andrew’s Aunt is Valerie Browning who had moved to and lived in Afar, Ethiopia, She married to tribe and developed a big NGO with 750 employees to improve life in Afar. They have around 32 different projects addressing maternal health, water/dams, animal husbandry among others. Afar is considered the ‘hottest place on earth”. At 35C women will be in labour for days attended by “traditional birth attendants” whose only training was having birthed a baby themselves (successfully or otherwise) still believing in superstitious health practices that may be harmful ie should not drink water while in labour. The lack of health service, poor training and superstitious health practices result in very high maternal and neonatal mortality rate in Ethiopia: 1 in 12 die in childbirth (compared to Australia’s 7 in 100,000 maternal mortality rate).
Mothers dying of childbirth leave many men widowed and children orphaned which then increase their chance of dying before age of 5yrs old. If laboring mothers don’t die, they are then at high risk of having an ‘obstetric fistula’ which is a ‘hole in the bladder’ after the baby’s head had been stuck in obstructed labour for many days.
Which brings us to the story of Sahara, married at age 15 years old, she was one of the unlucky 5% who had obstructed labour for about five days.  She delivered a stillborn while unconscious on the 4th day. She regained consciousness 2 days after delivery to find herself leaking urine uncontrollably. Her husband eventually left her and she lived with her mother in a small hut for 4 months without going out because of shame. This was the condition she was in when she was found by Valerie Browning’s team. Being illiterate and nomadic, Sahara had never been to a hospital, let alone have any surgery so after she had her ‘obstetric fistula’ repaired and she found herself with a catheter (tube to drain the bladder while it’s healing), she was terrified and pulled out the catheter. She eventually had second surgery and successfully closed the fistula with much support and encouragement! She is studying to become a midwife herself and help other women in future.
In first-world countries, obstetric fistulas are essentially eradicated by timely intervention to deliver via caesarian section. To prevent obstetric fistula – there is a need to address the need of building hospitals and providing staff training. Barbara May Foundation was created to raise the much needed funding for these projects. Cost of simple birthing kit is $1.50 and cost of training a midwife is $50. To date, they have reduced maternal deaths from 6,000 to 550 in 100,000 (still higher than Australia’s 7 in 100,000 maternal deaths).
Andrew left Ethiopia in 2011 and moved to Tanzania to improve maternal health services in other parts of Africa. After praying for months to be able to have a land and build a hospital in Tanzania, a lady invited him for lunch and offered funding to build the now-Kivulini Centre that opened in 2018. This was complemented by a man donating a land for the centre to be built on. From the very first day and to date, miracles continue to happen in this hospital as babies being saved and more importantly women birthing safely and surviving childbirth to be able to raise their children!