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Saving mothers and babies

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Training midwives in poorer countries is Alice Waterman’s way of helping to cut infant and maternal mortality

Training midwives in poorer countries is Alice Waterman’s way of helping to cut infant and maternal mortality

Between excursions across the world, retired midwife Alice Waterman has a few minutes to talk before departing for South Africa the next day.

A volunteer with the Making it Happen scheme through the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, she teaches midwives around the world the skills they need to prevent infant and maternal mortality. She has travelled the world over from Sierra Leone to Pakistan to improve midwifery and neonatal care.

Although Ms Waterman retired three years ago, her desire to help women and babies by volunteering has kept her busier than ever. After a career in midwifery totalling nearly 30 years, she is a skilled and passionate midwife who still has a thirst for learning.

She met the teams from the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine and Making it Happen when volunteering in Sierra Leone, and she couldn’t be happier that she did. She says the team at Liverpool “looks after” her and she has “never been disappointed”.

Ms Waterman became interested in midwifery after giving birth to her own children, and did her nursing training followed by that for midwifery. She explains the vitality of independence in nursing at the time and says she was “trained to be more self-sufficient”.

She believes the role of a midwife is to care for a woman during the antenatal, intrapartum and postnatal period, including caring for her newborn baby but emphasises that midwives have an important role in their patients’ safety at all stages of birth. As such, it is essential these women receive proper care - which, unfortunately, is not always the case.

Ms Waterman is working towards the prevention of infant and maternal death by training midwives around the globe to give them the skills they need to feel confident in their roles and ensure they can provide the best method of care. One of her most relevant experiences as a volunteer has been her work in Sierra Leone, where she was based for a year while training midwives to improve their knowledge and skills.

In Sierra Leone, every day 14 women die giving birth - a statistic Ms Waterman encountered first hand. She also explains that, to women in Sierra Leone, “being pregnant is like being between life and death”. She reveals that “trying to reduce deaths of women of childbearing age is [my] motivation”.

When in Sierra Leone, Ms Waterman was able to teach groups of 70 student midwives. An inspiration to her students, she encouraged them to pursue midwifery both for their own benefit as well as that of others. One student described the impact Ms Waterman’s teaching had on her: “[Alice] motivated me to love midwifery. She always motivated us to see the potential that we have.”

Although Ms Waterman may make midwifery seem effortless, she notes that the specialty is “not for the faint hearted”. She explains that local women are not always aware of their rights and the few midwives on hand are not equipped to perform emergency treatment - both of which significantly affect the mortality rate. The lack of properly trained medical staff and basic necessities needed for safe birth are factors that she and the Making it Happen scheme are trying to change.

Ms Waterman insists she has no trips planned to take place after her imminent journey to South Africa, but it is clear she is not done with her volunteer work - or midwifery. As she explains: “every location is a new challenge” and “every two years I want a new challenge”. She jokingly says she was “quite surprised at how much travelling [she does]”.

Ms Waterman encourages anyone interested in midwifery or Making it Happen to get involved - the development of skills in midwifery really can be the difference between life and death.

Dakota Smith

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