When I gave birth to my two children, now teenagers, I had the support of a fully equipped, modern maternity unit and felt I was in safe hands should anything go wrong. I realise how lucky I was when I hear of women like Edith Sanya.
Edith was a 25 year old teacher who was due to deliver her baby in her home village in Uganda. But after the baby became obstructed, she had to be taken on a long journey to Mulago Hospital in Kampala during which her uterus ruptured and she haemorrhaged. She died through lack of available blood after reaching the hospital, leaving her husband bereft.
Tragically, many women and babies in Africa die unnecessarily in childbirth.. But Edith's death is particularly significant to us at Liverpool Women's because as a Trust, we have formed a unique partnership with Mulago Hospital where at least two women die every week through pregnancy complications because of lack of staff and facilities - and by that I mean even the most basic equipment such as blood pressure monitors, thermometors and stethoscopes to listen to the baby's heartbeat. Sadly, the stillbirth rate in Mulago is 5 per cent.
Through our Liverpool-Mulago partnership, we are doing our bit to try to reduce that toll and improve the care of women and babies so less fortunate than us. It is a huge task which has other international support. While Liverpool Women's has the largest maternity unit in this country, delivering over 8000 babies a year Mulago is the largest in Uganda with 30,000 births a year.
Our partnership was set up in 2009 by Liverpool Women's Consultant Obstetrician Professor Andrew Weeks, who worked in Mulago Hospital for some years and saw for himself the desperate need for equipment and better trained staff. Since then doctors, midwives and other people from Liverpool Women's have been spending time in Mulago, sharing their expertise and helping in the training of staff. At the same time, staff from Mulago have travelled to Liverpool to experience how we work and sharing with our teams the expertise that they have in dealing with conditions rarely seen in the UK now.
With help from our staff, a high dependency unit has now been set up at Mulago. It is not the sort of high tech, well equipped unit we have here but a room - cleaned and decorated by Liverpool staff - that has six beds and the basic essentials. Even so, it is already helping to save the lives of women like Edith with life threatening conditions such as pre-eclampsia, haemorrhage and ruptured uterus who would rarely lose their lives in our country. There is also an assessment room now so that it can quickly be recognised when a woman has developed dangerous symptoms. But there is so much more to be done.
Our Medical Director, Jonathan Herod, a gynaecological and oncology surgeon, has recently spent time in Mulago and found there is a huge problem with cervical cancer which is usually diagnosed in its late stages while deaths from gynaecological and obstetric complications are commonplace.
He said on his return: "It is a very humbling experience to see how big the gap is between the services we can provide and those in Mulago Hospital. Staff there are treating large numbers of very ill patients with minimal resources."
As part of our ongoing effort, he is hoping we may be able to develop some training opportunities here in Liverpool for the Mulago Oncology team and is collaborating with Canadian doctors to try and develop a gynaecology oncology service in Mulago.
A research centre is also to be set up at Liverpool Women's with the University of Liverpool which will be named after Edith and concentrate on improving the care of women like her in developing countries.
As I go about the hospital today, I know I will be thinking about Edith and all those other women far away for whom giving birth or having a gynaecological illness can be a matter of life or death.
*To find out more about our partnership with Mulago you can visit www.liverpoolmulagopartnership.org