A COUPLE from York have moved to Sierra Leone to help provide vital care for women giving birth.
Andrea and Paul Robinson, both 55 and from Dringhouses, are heading up an American organisation in Bo, the country’s second city.
The west African country has one of the world’s highest infant mortality rates and many women die in childbirth or are left injured due to poor care.
Andrea, who was a nurse in Wakefield then worked for the North Yorkshire and York Primary Care Trust before retiring, said: “We had been on holiday to Africa, and married in Kenya. We had seen so much poverty and hopelessness and we wanted to use our skills. We are not missionaries; we are not religious; but we saw there were opportunities to improve conditions for a lot of people.”
She said she wanted “somewhere warm where I could use my skills,” and found work with Voluntary Services Overseas.
“This job description fitted well and we knew it would be very colourful, and they have made us very welcome,” she said. “There is a lot of malaria and tropical illness but the people are very friendly.”
The couple are working with the West Africa Fistula Foundation, established by Texan obstetrician Darius Maggi to repair fistulas in new mothers – internal tears caused by obstructed labour.
Sierra Leone has a severe shortage of skilled medical staff, with many leaving during the 1991-2002 civil war and others being lured away since to better jobs.
Mismanaged labour often leads to the baby and/or mother dying, or the mother suffering a fistula. Women suffering the condition face lifelong incontinence unless it is treated, and are often ostracised by their community as a result.
Dr Maggi has repaired 1,000 fistulas and the organisation seeks to treat more victims and prevent avoidable new cases, through education and medical provision.
Andrea is now working as the Foundation’s head of operations, with Paul as head of facilities and transport, focusing on building a Surgical Centre of Excellence in Sierra Leone to help reduce the shortfall of medical staff.
For more information on the Foundation, visit www.westafricafistulafoundation.org