Surprised at what she saw in India, Beth Rowlands became a tireless campaigner for affordable healthcare for all
When Beth Rowlands thinks about her week-long trip to Liberia with Save the Children in December 2012, she thinks about Margaret.
Margaret, a midwife in Liberia, has to work six days a week without electricity or running water. As the only midwife on duty, she is often woken in the middle of the night to deliver a baby.
For Ms Rowlands, Margaret represents the hundreds of nurses in Liberia who do a great deal with very few resources. She represents a chance to make a difference.
Ms Rowlands, 34, who qualified as a nurse at Sheffield Hallam University in 2004, always wanted to take her skills abroad to help those who lack the benefits she enjoys as a UK nurse.
She moved to Hyderabad in India in 2010, where she saw a very different side to healthcare as a volunteer with a small healthcare charity, the Institute for Rural Health Studies. She was surprised by the number of preventable diseases and the poor provision of basic healthcare for many.
In 2012, Ms Rowlands volunteered as a health worker campaigner with Save the Children as part of their No Child Born to Die campaign. Along with 10 other UK health professionals, she campaigns for the rights of all children to receive adequate healthcare by professionals who have been trained and have the resources to provide that care.
“The big thing we are focusing on at the moment is universal health coverage, or the right of everyone in the world to have healthcare without going into debt,” she says.
Ms Rowlands says she wants to convey this mission to as many people as she can - including health secretary Jeremy Hunt.
While attending the World Health Assembly in Geneva last month, Ms Rowlands met with Mr Hunt to tell him about the work she and the other health campaigners have been doing.
“We are really passionate about improving inequalities in global health and I want him and the UK government to know that,” she says. “He was really interested in universal health coverage and said it was one of the things he was going to mention to the assembly that afternoon.”
Ms Rowlands says her own view of healthcare in the UK altered when she saw the conditions and minimum resources nurses such as Margaret work with every day.
“One thing that really came across to us were the many preventable diseases people are dying from,” she says. “I met so many people in India who had gone bankrupt taking out loans to cover illnesses that we would pay nothing to cover in the UK. I found it quite humbling to see how grateful they were for the care they received.”
Ms Rowlands and her fellow health worker campaigners want to challenge negative messages about international aid.
“There’s been quite a lot of negative attention given to the money the UK gives away in aid,” she says. “We are trying to talk about the successes and say that we support it and are pro-aid.”
Ms Rowlands sees the Global Forum on Human Resources for Health, which will be held in Recife in Brazil, as a chance for UK representatives to voice their opinion about improving global access to health workers. The conference will take place over four days in November.
“It presents a real opportunity for the UK to demonstrate international leadership and stand up for the importance of health workers, ensuring that political will translates into effective action,” says Ms Rowlands.
Since returning from the trip in December, Ms Rowlands and her fellow campaigners have focused on telling others about what they saw in Liberia. By giving talks locally, lobbying their MPs, writing letters and attending campaign events, they hope to improve conditions for health workers like Margaret and her patients.
Ms Rowlands says this kind of advocacy comes from her sense of duty and privilege as a UK nurse.
“I consider myself very lucky to benefit from the health services provided by the NHS and I’d like more people to have the same right to basic healthcare that I do,” she says.