A visit from our Ugandan Twins

23 October 2016

Looking back over the past almost 4 years as Global Professional Advisor for the Royal College of Midwives, there have been several periods of intense activity during which re reassure ourselves that calmer waters are ahead - only those peaceful pools seldom occur.  The past few weeks have been packed with logistically complicated programmes and the days ahead offer little respite.  However, we wouldn't have it any other way.  We know that investing in midwifery is the most cost-effective intervention in public health and working with our partners so that, in the future, every woman and newborn receives accessible, acceptable, affordable and quality midwifery care is an enormous privilege that drives us to respond.

Introducing our twins to a Full English Breakfast on the morning they arrived in the UK


Over the past few days, five of our Ugandan midwife partners have come to the UK on an exchange visit.  Three of them had never travelled outside Africa so we knew they would need careful nurturing to best make use of the experience.  We therefore arranged for them to stay in homes rather than hotels and to make sure that they were always accompanied on visits.  We exposed them to as many British experiences as we could - traditional tea rooms, Lancashire Hotpot, Tube Trains, propeller planes, high speed railways and the the M25, Poundland and Primark, London buses, village greens, churches and castles, country parks, crumble (lots of it!) and of course, our unpredictable Autumn weather.  We reassured them that it was safe to walk through long grass without fear of snakes or lions; we instructed in proper escalator etiquette, equipped them with coats and warm jumpers (donated by kind friends and colleagues) and spent weeks prior to their visit cooking and freezing tasty traditional meals and bakes whilst also trying to provide some more familiar flavours of home.

Walking in a Kentish Country Park.  Why don't we eat the ducks?!

Of course this visit was not just about sharing cultural experiences.  Our programme 'MOMENTUM' is helping to develop a model of midwifery mentorship for Uganda.  We therefore planned as much exposure (as was possible in a short window) to UK midwifery and mentorship as we could for our twins.  Together they visit hospitals, birth centre and universities in Kent, London, Surrey and Northern Ireland.  They met policy makers, professional and regulatory bodies, midwives in many different roles. maternity support workers, student midwives and lecturers - and of course - women and their partners.  They observed PRROMPT training, explored database systems, had presentations by Skype from Scotland and marvelled at student midwifery societies.  Together we did 2 conference presentations and met ministers of state, funding bodies, the President of the International Confederation of Midwives and our own chief executive, Cathy Warwick.

Visiting a midwife-led unit in Belfast with RCM volunteer Elizabeth Bannon OBE


We also took time to reflect formally on these experiences and make individual and collective work plans for how this learning will influence our MOMENTUM programme and midwifery in Uganda. It was a time to deepen individual twinning relationships and we were delighted that almost all of our 7 UK MOMENTUM midwife consultants were able to give time out of their busy lives to meet and host their twins.
Introducing our friends to tube travel!

Two of our Ugandan colleagues work in government health centres, delivering up to 21  babies per days in just one room with a total staff of just 13 midwives and one doctor to cover all aspects of maternity care.  Compare that with my local NHS Trust in Kent - a similar number of deliveries but with its own free standing birth centre containing all home comforts, a referral hospital with 14 delivery rooms and staff of almost 300 midwives plus countless doctors and other professionals. Over and over again we heard our guests say 'you have so much space' and goggle at the wastefulness of resources through away after each use when every swab, glove and instrument would make the world of difference to their constrained services.  Perhaps every midwife from the UK should spend some time in a low-resource country to appreciate the privilege that it is to work in our own settings.

Enjoying an English Country Garden with our host (centre) Helen Cooke

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