Written by Matthew Prior, a UK-based doctor specialising in Obstetrics and Gynaecology and a health ambassador for Save the Children
It’s not every day that you decide to start a blog, but today isn’t any other day. Today is 1 January – a time to make resolutions.
The average resolution only lasts about six weeks and like all good new year’s resolutions, this blog will hopefully last at least six.
Over the next year, I want to share the experience I had when visiting Liberia in December 2012 as a health ambassador for Save the Children.
It all happened by accident. I work as a doctor in a modern maternity unit in the UK. I responded to a Save the Children advert looking for healthcare workers to take part in a project.
Next thing I knew I was on a plane to Liberia. I’d never heard of Liberia before, my wife and family thought I’d be taken hostage by the remnants of Gaddafi’s regime before I pointed out Libya is a different place. The best response was a slightly quizzical look before asking, “Where exactly is Liberia again?”
An airborne briefing
I found my seat and settled down to read up on our destination. Alan, the man in the seat next to me, was going somewhere I’d heard of before – Sierra Leone. It borders Liberia to the east and the plane was stopping there en route.
I’d heard of it for all the wrong reasons: civil war, child soldiers, atrocities with machetes and blood diamonds.
As the in-flight meal came round, Alan told me to fill up on it as I might not get anything else decent for a week.
After telling me his suitcase was packed full of ready meals, he gave me some advice for Liberia, which basically came down to don’t leave the hotel if you value your life. I began to share my family’s concerns.
Then I glanced down at the briefing pack I’d failed to read through in the busy weeks before departure. I found lots of facts and statistics.
Five facts about Liberia
1. Liberia is in west Africa. It has a population of more than 3.5 million. Libya is a different country.
2. Two thirds of Liberians live in extreme poverty (less than US$1 a day).
3. Just 10% of mothers and children have access to basic healthcare.
4. One child in nine dies before their fifth birthday.
5. Pregnant women have a one in 24 chance of death in childbirth.
For the last month I’ve been trying to think of words that adequately describe my visit and the experience of healthcare that I saw.
I’m a doctor, not a writer, and storytelling doesn’t come naturally to me so the process of turning this experience of a lifetime into a blog will be a painfully steep learning curve.
Over the next year I want to tell the stories behind these facts. What do they mean in real life? Why does this still happen in 2013? What is being done to improve the situation? And how you and I can be involved in helping too.