Reflections on an elective placement to Uganda 2017 with MAMA from Liz Payne (third year midwifery student, University of Bedfordshire):
Throughout training, an elective placement overseas had always been something that I wanted to complete. So, when two of my fellow colleagues presented a slide show of their experiences travelling to Uganda with MAMA I knew this was what I wanted to do. Within a week, my colleague Sharon and I were in contact with MAMA, organising when we could go and what we needed to do beforehand.
The day we were leaving came around so quickly, there was a whirlpool of emotions alongside many questions; would I enjoy it? what would we experience? I felt excited, nervous, apprehensive but mostly extremely lucky all at the same time. After all I was not only leaving my children for 2 weeks but also the comforts of the resources that we are so fortunate to have access to when working within the NHS, and traveling to a country where I had no clue what healthcare resources would be available to us, if any.
After several hiccups, we were united with Rhi (the midwife who had helped us arrange this experience and a trustee of MAMA), and we were in Uganda. Of course, I had many expectations, one of these was about how Uganda would look. Throughout my two weeks most of these expectations would turn out to be completely wrong.
We arrived in Hoima at breakfast time and after introductions with Sofia (a midwife and Trustee of MAMA), we tucked into the first of many amazing meals. Being in Uganda for only two weeks, we wanted to hit the ground running and experience as much as we could possibly squeeze in. We were shown to where we would call home for the next two weeks. The house was amazing, far more than we could have ever expected, unpacking took all of about 30 minutes as we were excited to begin our placement.
We were shown around Hoima government hospital, this would be the only time during our trip that we spent at Hoima. Very quickly it was clear that the people of Hoima and surrounding villages had very little opportunity to receive the simplest of treatments needed, due to either lack of resources or the patients being unable to afford the treatments. Opening a drug cupboard to find that it was empty was shocking, how could things be so different to what we were used to. This was a question that I asked many times over the next few weeks.
While wandering around the hospital we went into the kangaroo care ward, it was like a ray of sunshine, skin-to-skin care is the most effective way of regulating a baby’s heart rate and temperature, as well as helping to initiate breastfeeding and bonding and they were promoting this form of care. With many premature babies being born this was essential to their survival, and it was happening.
The next day we travelled to Runga, a village on the edge of Lake Albert where MAMA had opened their clinic. This is where in the two weeks that I spent in Uganda I felt like I learnt so much, made the most difference and where we felt so welcome. Children and adults smiling and waving to us when they saw the MAMA vehicle arrive. Reflecting on that time now that I have been home for several weeks is where I feel my midwifery and communication skills were most utilized.
Most of the people that we saw at the clinic had only primary education which meant most do not speak English, this was a huge challenge when attempting to explain the care and treatments we were offering. Luckily MAMA have some amazingly dedicated midwives from AZUR hospital that also work at the clinic and helped with translation.
Having the opportunity to work in the clinic at Runga under supervision, I felt immensely privileged, it made me revaluate the things in my life that I thought were important, and now home, has changed many things about the way I practice midwifery. The women who attended the clinic, sat waiting their turn with no complaint of how long they waited, appreciative of the care they received.
We treated many people for malaria over those two weeks, not surprising really when you consider that there is no clean drinking water in the village unless you pay for it. How lucky we are that we do not have to even think where our water is coming from, but just turn on a tap.
Sharon and myself continued a project that had been started by volunteers the previous year. This was to support and teach the staff of AZUR hospital the importance of hand hygiene and to show them how to make hand gel using the World Health Organisations guide. We laminated how to use cards and placed them on each wash station, and taught them that hand gel could be used in theatres when no water is available. Completing this project was a small thing that we could do that had potential to make a huge difference, and we both felt that it was appreciated by all.
My time in Uganda came to an end to quickly, I saw some amazing sites, learnt so much and met some wonderful people during my two weeks. Midwives that work tirelessly in making a small difference to the women’s lives that they care for. Sacrificing so much to offer their knowledge and time. Both Sofia and Rhi have the unique quality of giving so much and not expecting anything in return, they both taught me so much in my short time, and for that I am truly grateful. This experience (it may sound cheesy) did change me both personally and professionally, it is something that I will remember forever. I fell in love with Uganda and the people, it is definitely somewhere I will return once I have completed my preceptorship. Until then, keep up the amazing work you do MAMA.
“We were able to observe finely-tuned, fundamental, midwifery skills being practiced at their best – which, dare I say it, may on occasion be overlooked when technology is readily available. That being said, under-resourcing of essential supplies is a massive issue, which, whilst it may arguably lead to well-honed midwifery skills, is a huge challenge to overcome. Even the most skilled midwife has the odds stacked against them when the region has no O negative blood.”
“I was in my final year of midwifery training and I grabbed the opportunity with both hands to go to Uganda… The thing I loved the most was we weren’t there as a team to take over the role of the local midwives, we were there to work together, support them and learn from each other.”
“Unfortunately our 10 days in Uganda came to an end, and I can truly say it has been the best experience, both personally and professionally. It has opened my eyes to how other communities live and made me realise how much we take for granted here in the UK. This is an experience I will cherish forever…”