Imagine that you are an Obstetric doctor working in rural West Africa, in a country that has been labelled the worst place in the world to be a woman. You need to come home to Australia for a much deserved break. But who will support the maternity work at the hospital while you are away?
We’ve been supporting Dr Anne-Sophie, a GP Obstetrician working in Galmi Hospital in Niger. She has been there for about three years. Her letters are full of the most incredible stories of courageous people – medical staff dealing with hard situations, and mothers who so often fight incredible battles during their pregnancies. So when she wrote asking for someone to cover her leave we wanted to help. I contacted lots of my medical colleagues, but no one was able to go. Finally, we thought perhaps we could go.
Out of the blue one day, we met a lady visiting Nhulunbuy. She just happened to have visited Niger a week prior, and was friends with Anne-Sophie. She showed us some pictures and videos – and we were hooked immediately. The possibility of going became a goal to make reality.
And now we are on the way.
So why Niger?
Perhaps we can only answer that when we return. But let me share what we have found out so far.
Niger is a landlocked country in West Africa, mostly made up of the Sahara Desert. Most people live close to the southern border, where there is just enough water to grow food.
It was a French colony until independence in 1958, so the national language is French. Most people speak their own language though, such as Hausa, Zarma-Sonrai, Tamasheq, Fulfulde and others…
Niger ranks second lowest in the world on the UN Human Development Index, which ranks countries based on life expectancy, education, and income.
If you are a woman, you have a 1 in 14 chance of dying sometime in your lifetime due to pregnancy complications. There is a infant mortality rate of 85 per 1000 in the first year, and a maternal mortality rate of 553 per 100,000.
That’s the stuff that stops me in my tracks.
A country can’t just be about the statistics though. We can’t wait to get to know the colours, the stories, and the spirit of what must be such a different place to North East Arnhem Land.