Reflections of an English midwife in China
Thursday 25 November 2010
Whether in the National Health Service in the UK or the remote corners of China, making a positive difference in the health of mums and babies is what counts…
As a student midwife back in the UK, my supervisor once told me that we were like a grain of sand on a beach in people’s lives. I didn’t draw much comfort from that when visiting poor postpartum mothers in urban Sheffield struggling to cope….
Health and development can sometimes feel much the same…. So I look for the little things – the smiles of the mothers and grandmothers, the giggles of the babies, the genuine gratitude expressed by our partners when we bring training opportunities to improve their performance, the thrill when we see the data showing we did make some difference after all, and the sweet words of support from a loved one doing similar work on another continent when the going gets tough….
Save the Children works in more than 100 countries. In China our health programme is part of the global EVERY ONE Campaign to improve maternal health and reduce child mortality. In a country as vast and populous as China, it’s crucial that our child survival work focuses on those left behind by its rapid economic growth: migrants in the cities, ethnic minorities in remote mountainous regions, and poor rural communities.
On the Eastern seaboard and hinterland, cities such as Beijing and Shanghai are dynamic cosmopolitan metropolises with millions of migrants from poor rural areas helping to build a modern China. Xinjiang, the main home of the Uighur people and the Taklimakan desert, and Tibet, the highest plateau in the world at an average elevation of 4,000 metres, are both large, sparsely populated autonomous regions in the poorer Western part of the country.
Sichuan province, infamous for the 2008 earthquake, is situated almost centrally with Yunnan province to its South. Both have significant numbers of mountain-dwelling ethnic minorities and patches of extreme poverty. Save the Children’s China programme has health teams based in all of these diverse locations.
Despite differing health system weaknesses and variations in the health deficits of mums and young children across our programme sites, the way we work in each place is similar:
- close collaboration with local partners to help strengthen the health system to reach the hard-to-reach with essential services
- advocacy for evidence-based policies and a closing of policy-to-practice gaps
- empowering families and communities to better prevent childhood illnesses
- quick recognition and action for serious deviations from the norm in pregnancy, childbirth, postpartum and infancy.
It’s rewarding and exciting work, far removed from the context and the challenges I faced when I was part of the NHS. Yet, equally, there are times when our efforts feel like a grain of sand on the beach — but as we all know, it’s the little things that count.