Tag Archives: Maternal Health

Sophia Webster On Her Flight For Every Mother

Sophia Webster On Her Flight For Every Mother


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Dr. Sophia Webster

“Writing this in the aeroplane above Côte d’Ivoire and will send when I reach the ground ( Ross has taken over the controls temporarily!!) “- Dr. Sophia Webster

Maternal mortality in many countries in Africa is  unacceptably high. Especially since almost all of these deaths occur in low-resource settings, and most of them could have  been prevented.  As an OB/GYN working in England  Dr. Sophia Webster was appalled by the statistics and lack of access to medical care that many of the communities suffering high maternal mortality rates had. So she decided to do something about it. She determined to fly to 26 countries in Africa to raise awareness about Maternal Health issues, and to deliver medical supplies, and healthcare worker training. When I learned about her plan I felt a thrill. She instantly became my hero, my Amelia Earhart,  her undertaking is something I would dream of doing, and since I’m neither a physician nor pilot, it only ever could be a dream for me.  Sophia Webster on the other hand, being both a Dr. and a pilot, is uniquely positioned to make a real direct impact in these communities. As romantic as my notions of flying across Africa are, my experiences during my overland travel for six months across the continent years ago enlightened me to some of the stark realities Dr. Sophia Webster would be sure to face along the way. ffem copy

My father on the other hand was a physician and a small plane pilot who served as a Flight Surgeon in the Army before I was born. We did not fly often, but I can remember the thrill when as a child my dad let me take  the controls in my hands. It turns out that when you tilt the controls up, it tips the nose of the plane down, so my stint as a pilot was very short-lived and a bit dramatic, but the romance of small planes stayed with me. Intrigue with Flight and travel, was further infused through the books my father had read as an armchair traveler. He never did visit the places he read about, but when I grew up I did, and I knew where the seed for my wanderlust had been planted.

Soaring above Cote d’Ivoire Sophia graciously took time away from saving lives, teaching, flying her plane, and fixing it several times along the way to answer the interview questions that I had sent to her.

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When did you learn to fly?

SW: I started in sept 2009 in Carlisle, UK, when I was posted to a district general hospital in the Lake District. I completed about half of my basic training there, and then transferred to Newcastle when my hospital appointment changed.

At what point did you come up with your idea for this trip, and how long did it take you from concept to reality?

SW: In March 2012 whilst I was hiking with my best friend in California. I guess I’m an ideas person, and had been considering at the back of my mind how to do something unusual that linked all of my skills together for a cause about which I passionately believe.

Had you been to Africa before?

SW: Yes, many times. My first trip to Africa was to Egypt as a medical student in 2001. My first trip to sub-Sahara was to The Gambia in 2006 as a doctor to help a nursing colleague of mine open a village health clinic. In 2007, between my junior and senior Obstetric and Gynecology training, I worked in Cape Town, South Africa to gain practical experience and that was when I first began to appreciate how risky it can be to be pregnant. Since I have been back in the UK I have been part of a clinical teaching faculty and have travelled to many other African countries to teach emergency Obstetric and life saving skills to front line health workers including midwives and doctors.

What has surprised you most along the way?

SW: On the aviation front – the vast difference in airport charges between neighbouring countries and just how difficult some airports are to negotiate as a private pilot. On the medical front – just how enthusiastic the public have been in talking about women’s reproductive health, as demonstrated by the questions and responses to my breakfast radio interview via the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Corporation!

What are you missing having access to from home?

SW: Washing my hair regularly!

What is the greatest urgent need you have come across along the way?

SW: Most hospitals we have visited have not had enough beds for the number of patients needing to be admitted, with 2 patients sharing and sometimes even three.

Maternity Ward

Maternity Ward

Which of the following would you say the majority of problems stem from poor maternal health, poor neonatal health, poor sanitation, lack of equipment or lack of expertise in health workers?

SW: Maternal health – there are so many factors at play. There are usually insufficient front line health workers and equipment deficiencies. Skills training is often infrequent leading to inappropriate and/or slow actions in the case of an emergency.

Neonatal health can reflect baseline maternal health. Monitoring of the fetal heartbeat in labour can be suboptimal because of lack of equipment, too few midwives to perform the auscultation and lack of knowledge about how often it should be done and what is normal/abnormal. Resuscitation of a newborn baby that is not breathing well is another key skill which can be forgotten. Hospitals in sub-Sahara are often unable to look after very premature babies because of resource issues.

Have you met any negative response to what you are trying to do?

SW: Yes – not everyone believes in the ideas of Flight For Every Mother. For example, when we arrived in Dakar our proposed hospital visit was cancelled as our request had come across as not well organised without advanced visits to jointly discuss local need face to face. Some practitioners have voiced concern about the short time that the project is running for and wonder if it will have a sustainable impact. Such concern is usually short-lived when I explain the main goal is to raise awareness, and that we have linked with 7 key charities working within women’s reproductive health who are carrying out well established, continuous projects.

Can you measure positive and sustainable impact due to your visit to a particular area? Is that something that you can see right away or over time with results?

SW: It’s difficult to measure positive and sustainable impact in this, primarily awareness-raising, project. There is an ever-increasing following on Facebook and Twitter and I have done a number of in-country newspaper, TV and radio interviews.

I keep a record of the number of front line health workers that I train in Obstetric emergencies and I am in touch with at least one from each facility to hear subjectively about impact (patient and newborn outcomes) over time.

How may your ideas have changed since the beginning of your trip due to experience along the way?

SW: I have realised that as well as raising awareness both in-country and to the wider international public, clinical teaching and meeting with different government and non-government agencies, the information gathering that I have found myself able to do in terms of the set up of medical facilities, resource and local cultural factors is a major additional benefit of this project. Using this information, I will be able to work with both my postgraduate college, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG), and other agencies in the future to highlight areas of specific need and target partnerships accordingly.

Is your primary goal awareness or impact, or both in equal measure?

 SW: Both. I am trying to do something unique that encourages people to ask ‘why?’ and then I have the opportunity to create awareness.

What message would you most like to convey to those who are following your trip through social media?

 SW: That all women should have the chance for a safe pregnancy no  matter where they live in the world.

We don’t all have our MD or pilots licence, but  you can still be part of this amazing campaign for maternal health by helping to supply the medical equipment that Dr. Webster will need along the way,  Join in and help out simply by visiting the Catapult crowdfunding page to make a donation. You can follow Flight For Every Mother on Sophie’s Blog, Facebook Page and on  Twitter!


My Birthing Story & The State of the World’s Mothers

My Birthing Story & The State of the World’s Mothers

Each year Save The Children produces a report on the  State of the World’s Mothers. I am sharing my birthing story here in honor  of Mother’s Day and the release of the 14th annual report in hopes of raising awareness on this important issue along with other members of the Global Team of 200 . In the report the best and worst countries in which to give birth are ranked , and I think readers will be shocked to learn where the USA stands in that regard.  It is also shocking to learn that 1 Million babies die the very day they are born each year. The majority of which could be prevented.  It is that first twenty-four hours of a baby’s life that are most critical, and although annual child mortality has declined 40% world-wide since 1990, the numbers are not so favorable for the newborn.  The 2013 State of the World’s Mothers report focuses in on newborn health and the theme “Surviving the First Day.”

 Here is my story about giving birth:

I have always loved babies, and growing up I dreamt of the time when I would become a mother myself someday.  Although I also grew up believing that I could be anything I wanted to be career wise, and was lucky enough to find a career I loved, I always knew that Motherhood was personally the goal that I held most dear .  I sometimes pinch myself that all these years later I have been blessed to have become the mother of four children from a wonderful husband. People often comment on the great planning of the two-year spacing of each of our kids, and I laugh, because when we were not trying I got pregnant, and when we were trying I did not. Prior to my first pregnancy I’d heard that when you were ready to get pregnant you should stop taking the birth control pill a few months ahead of time to let your body adjust to its natural cycle. When we began thinking about starting a family I took that advice to “give my body a chance to regulate”.  Ha! We were surprised, and thrilled to find ourselves expecting that very next month!

A week past my first baby’s due date my obstetrician started to suggest induction.  I knew then that the carefully crafted birthing plan, full of all those silly quick in and out practice breathing exercises, was out the window.  It dawned on me that planning how my baby would be born was not quite as easy as I’d expected.  Sometimes nature has a way of foiling carefully laid plans like that, doesn’t it? At the same time, I was concerned enough that I did not care; I just wanted a healthy baby, and would do whatever it took for that outcome. How the baby got here lost its importance over just getting the baby here safely.

Although I had also been determined to give birth without an epidural, the anesthesiologist seemed to be sure I would cave.   He kept coming back into the room to see if I had changed my mind. He may have known a bit more about induction than I did because eventually I said, “If you tell me it will be one more hour I can do this, if you tell me five more hours, then give me the epidural!” Of course he said there was no way to be sure,  so I received the epidural.  I have to admit that things went pretty smoothly after that, and an hour later our beautiful, healthy baby girl was born.

I had lost my own mother just three months before I became a mother myself that day.  The last words she spoke to me were “I will always hold your hand”.  It was odd to me that I had not felt her presence as she’d promised since she passed away, but I was sure I would feel her there now.  I’m not sure exactly what it was that I expected, some sort of magical sign from my own mother, or spark of recognition I suppose.

Right away my newborn was put on my chest skin to skin.  I remember looking at her little face in awe, the tiny hands and feet, and thinking how miraculous that she had just been inside of me.  And here she was, her own unique little person blinking up at me. Amazing how in that instant our world shifted to revolve around her.  It sounds silly, and I’m not sure I can even articulate properly, how overjoyed as I was, I was also a bit amused and surprised that she did not look like me, or my husband, nor was she the image of my mother reborn.  She was this beautiful tiny unique individual all her own. This was one of the happiest days of my life, and my wish is that it should be for all mothers.


“It’s hard to imagine the depth of one mother’s pain in losing her baby the very day she gives birth, let alone a million times over,”  said Carolyn Miles, President & CEO of Save the Children.  “Yet, this report is full of hope.  It shows there is a growing movement to save newborn lives and growing evidence that we can do it—saving up to 75 percent of them with no intensive care whatsoever.”


See the full rankings, learn more and take action at www.savethechildren.org/mothers

Save the Children is the leading independent organization for children in need, with programs in 120 countries, including the United States. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

I wrote this post as part of The Global Team of 200, a highly specialized group of members of Mom Bloggers for Social Good that concentrates on issues involving women and girls, children, world hunger and maternal health.

Our Motto: Individually we are all-powerful. Together we can change the world. We believe in the power of collective action to help others and believe in ourselves to make this world a better place for our children and the world’s children.

What Are The Millennium Development Goals?

What Are The Millennium Development Goals?

The Millennium Development Goals are 8 international development goals set after the United Nations Millennium Summit in 2000. These goals were agreed upon by all 193 United Nations members to be achieved by 2015. At the time it must have seemed very far off in the future, but today marks 1,000 days until the goals are to be met. Millennium 1,000 has filled a schedule of 1,000 minutes of digital programing today to mark the goal and inspire momentum in achieving the 8 Millennium Development goals globally. You can join the conversation, or learn more by following the hashtag #MDGMomentum. I will be taking part in 1/2 hour Twitter chats with World Moms Blog at 6pm on the topic of #MDG2 Education using @worldmomsblog and #MDGMomentum, again at 9:30pm with Social Good Moms (where I am a member of Global team of  200) on #MDG5 “Picturing Maternal Health: A Look at Maternal Health Through Facts and Photos.” using #SocialGoodMoms & #MDDGMomentum hashtags, and then again at Midnight with World Moms Blog on #MDG4 Child Survival  using @worldmomsblog & the #MDGMomentum hashtag. I hope to see you at one or more! Below are fantastic infographics on each of the Millennium Development Goals from the United Nations. Much progress has been made, already extreme poverty has been halved since 1990, but we have so much farther to go by 2015, we need to work together to achieve these goals.