In this series, we will be highlighting the crucial and inspiring work some of our Fellows have undertaken as part of our Global Health Initiative.
What inspired you to get involved in Global Health?
It started in my early intern years. I am now a General Practitioner and my long-term passion has been working in women’s health. I find that I have lots of empathy with women because I understand not only the medical but also the social issues they are grappling with. I enjoy working with them.
In 1995 I went to the International Women’s Conference in Beijing and heard actress Sally Field share her experience of being an ambassador for Save the Children Fund and her recent trip to Nepal. She kept referring to the very simple birthing kits she had seen provided for assisting women to deliver. A couple of years later, when I decided I wanted to start something myself, I remembered this and explored how to create birthing kits. I was working at the time as a Medical Officer with a non-government organisation called OPAL (Overseas Pharmaceutical Aid for Life). They provided pharmaceutical and medical goods to developing countries and were the original suppliers of some of the birthing kits components. The Zonta Birthing Kit Project commenced in 1999 with the support of the service club I belong to – The Zonta Club of Adelaide Hills. It developed from there into the Birthing Kit Foundation in 2006. We have now distributed 1.8 million birthing kits in about 40 countries. We have also educated birth attendants on midwifery, hygiene and how care for mums and their babies.
Was there anything that surprised you or that you weren’t expecting to find?
Initially I thought the birthing kits we provided were too basic, but people in rural and remote parts of developing countries said they were like gold as the components were often very difficult to access locally. I learned that lack of resources is truly a barrier. There are about 120 million births every year in the world and most of them are in developing countries, but about half of these women don’t have access to health personnel or necessary resources. If we wanted to solve the problem we would need a huge budget. I was also surprised at the ease with which we got support from others for this project. It was an issue that everyone could identify with and many were willing to support women to have safe and clean births. Our mums are the first people who have taught us anything; it is unacceptable that they don’t have enough information when giving birth.
What have you learned from your engagement in Global Health?
In my mid-40s I quit my medical practice and had a position working for Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), in Iran, where I worked with Afghan refugees for six months. I learned the Persian language.
Working with refugees really challenged some of the things I had learned as ways to manage various conditions. For instance, chicken feet soup was recommended as a calcium supplement for muscle spasms. And how do you alter the diet of a person with diabetes when all they can afford are tea and bread. You’ve got to learn to think about the reality of your patients. What’s their life like when they go home?
The insights I gained enabled me to work in a refugee health service for twelve years after I got back home to Adelaide.
What advice would you give colleagues wishing to take part in global health initiatives in the future?
I think it’s worth reflecting on your own passions, capacities, experiences and talents first. Work out what the needs may be, where the gaps are and what you could contribute. Share your ideas with others as they may have similar interests.
Then, explore the opportunities as there may be activities you can join or, if not, create them using whatever capacities and strengths you have. Some might consider providing financial or advocacy support from Australia. Others might consider working abroad. Educate, do surgery, set up an organisation…whatever your capacities and strengths are, use those. You have the power to make the difference.
Thank you, Joy.
Working with others, RANZCOG members can offer education, clinical skills, research mentorship, and financial support to improve women’s and family health across the globe. Interested in getting involved? Review our current pathways here.
On average, women in Australia and New Zealand have high levels of health throughout their life. However, the same cannot be said for our Pacific neighbours. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) at least half of the world’s people are currently unable to obtain essential health services. RANZCOG’s vision in global health is to contribute to regional efforts to empower the reproductive health workforce to meet the challenges of providing quality care in low-resource and isolated settings through collaboration, partnerships and advocacy. RANZCOG’s commitment includes:
- Educational support
- Provision of resources
- Networking support
- Facilitation of training
- Continuing professional development (for O&Gs, midwives and other reproductive health workers)