It was a television show that drove Angela Gorman to get vital medication to expectant mothers in Africa.
In 2005 neonatal nurse Angela Gorman was watching television after a 12.5-hour shift. She intended to go to bed after the news, but stayed up to watch Dead Mums Don’t Cry, a BBC Panorama report on pregnant women in Chad, Africa. Five months later she was sitting in the office of Dr Grace Kodindo, a doctor working in Chad who featured in the documentary.
Inspired by the programme, Ms Gorman founded Life for African Mothers (originally called Hope for Grace Kodindo), a charity that sends medication and baby bundles to countries across Africa. It is estimated to have saved 40,000-50,000 lives since it was set up in 2005.
“The UN asked us to help in Liberia and Sierra Leone. It seemed strange that the UN was asking for help from an organisation that is run from a back bedroom in Wales, but we agreed,” says Ms Gorman.
“I went to visit Liberia and while I was there saw a woman of 19 dying of eclampsia. She could have been saved if she was given the right medication.”
Later, Ms Gorman was planning a visit to Sierra Leone when she received an email from a producer for ABC news in the US. “It turned out we were going at the same time so we agreed to meet up,” she says.
Ms Gorman features in the video, explaining the cost of saving a pregnant woman’s life is less than the cost of a postage stamp. At one point she is shown delivering antihaemorrhaging medication in a plastic Thorntons bag.
The two drugs the charity focuses on are misoprostol, which is used to treat postpartum haemorrhaging, and magnesium sulphate, which is used to treat eclampsia. Both conditions are easily treatable yet cause the deaths of thousands of women every year.
Life for African Mothers provides medication free to hospitals with two conditions: first - medication must be given to patients free of charge.
“Often people are made to pay for their treatment. There were cases where there was medicine in the cupboards, but the patients didn’t have any money so they died,” says Ms Gorman.
The other condition is that the women who receive the medicine are not told it has come from a charity. “These women feel they don’t have any worth. They will accept death as an inevitable part of pregnancy and say it’s God’s or Allah’s will. We want them to believe their government values them enough to give them the medication they need.”
Approximately two years ago Ms Gorman donated clothes to a hospital in Freetown, Sierra Leone. This made the number of women coming to the hospital rise but the figures started to go down again when the clothes ran out.
“When we went back we brought about 130kg of clothes with us. A few days later a woman in advanced labour came to the hospital and gave birth on the steps so she could get a bundle,” she says.
Life for African Mothers provides support to hospitals across Africa but can only commit to providing help for 12 months at a time because of funding.
“These women need help now. Women are dying today and for them it is no consolation that in 12 months’ time someone will have a strategy to help,” Ms Gorman says.
“In developing countries women produce 70% of the wealth. They are their country’s most precious asset. The death of these women costs the world US$15bn in lost productivity compared with the US$5bn it costs to help them. The world can’t afford to lose women at this rate.”
Dr Kodindo is now working in New York with the charity RAISE. Since retiring from the neonatal unit Ms Gorman has been working full time for Life for African Mothers.
“It’s all down to the power of TV. It’s easy to underestimate that, but none of this would have happened if not for that.”