Faculty lecturer and student midwives visit rural Zambia
Sixty kilometres from the nearest tar road and even further from a supermarket of any kind, Faculty principal lecturer in Midwifery Lindsay Gillman (photographed left) and four students stayed in rural Zambia for two weeks in June.
Housed at the Salvation Army Mission Hospital in Chikankata, the Faculty team were observing midwifery practice at the mission hospital and at maternal and child health clinics within rural communities. The priorities in the area are to improve maternal health, prevent maternal-to-child transmission of HIV and support health education, in particular by giving family planning advice.
Though the average number of children born to women in Zambia is 5.8, only 47 per cent of births are attended by a traditional birth attendant or midwife. Most women in the area live many hours' walk from the hospital and cannot afford an oxcart - much less an ambulance - to take them. As a result, many births happen at home, which are traditional African huts with limited sanitation. Some of these women are cared for in labour by traditional birth attendants who are trained and supported by the midwives from the mission.
“Many of the women are pregnant for most of their fertile life and most of them will expect some of their babies to die,” said Lindsay.
The hospital, on the other hand, is staffed with trained and qualified midwives who eagerly supported the Faculty students. Not knowing the native language, Tonga, the students had to use other forms of communication.
“What really impressed me was the students' ability to form relationships with the women they met without the use of language,” said Lindsay.
The students raised enough money to bring 75kg of medical equipment to the clinic, including blood pressure machines, stethoscopes, thermometers, tape measures, and notebooks and pens, the latter surprisingly hard to come by in Zambia. This made up 50 per cent of their luggage allowance.
Midwives at Chikankata do not have access to the kind of technical equipment found in UK hospitals but have excellent clinical skills, which enable them to care for pregnant women safely. The students were able to identify how they could further develop their own midwifery skills without the use of technology.
On the last night, the midwives presented Lindsay and her students with Chitengas —long, traditional skirts worn by all Zambian women over the age of 14. They threw a party with traditional singing and dancing and staple Zambian dishes including nshima —ground maize - roasted corn, cabbage, roasted nuts and meat.
“It was an amazing farewell. We felt like we were part of the Zambian midwifery community,” said Lindsay.