To mark International Women's Day this month, we spoke to some of the inspiring women who play a vital role in enabling IHP to carry out its work. 

Here, we chat to Angela Gorman (MBE), CEO and co-founder of Life for African Mothers, an organisation tackling maternal mortality in sub-Saharan Africa.

 

What inspired you to start LFAM?

“LFAM was not on my mind to do at all, but 16 years ago I came home after an incredibly busy shift at the University Hospital in Cardiff where I worked as a nurse on the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. I sat down to watch the news and instead of switching the TV off afterwards as normal, I let it run on. The documentary that followed changed my life. It was a BBC Panorama show called ‘Dead Mums Don’t Cry,’ featuring one woman’s fight to stop women dying in childbirth in Chad. At this one hospital, they were losing at least one woman every day and almost a quarter of the babies weren’t surviving. In Cardiff we’d lost two women in 12 years. Just because of where these women were in the world, their chances of survival were dramatically lower than here in the west.”

Inspired to act, Angela went on to found Life for African Mothers in 2006. Since then, the organisation has trained over 1,600 midwives, and through its partnership with IHP, has sent over 4.5 million doses of donated medication to prevent post-partum haemorrhage. On the basis that each woman is given three tablets, LFAM has been able to offer around 1.5 million women lifesaving treatment across six countries including Chad, Cameroon, Malawi, Sierra Leone, Liberia and the Congo.

We spoke to Angela about the importance of women and the roles they play in society, and why we should be celebrating them this International Women’s Day.

 

Typically women are heavily involved in caring for their families around the world. How do you think the work of IHP – to create access to medicine – can help them to care for others and fulfill their own potential?

“It’s generally recognised that if a mother dies in or after childbirth and has children under the age of five, including the baby, the chances of those children themselves dying before five multiply tenfold. Those children are ten times more likely to die, and the reason is that the mother is the source of nurturing and nutrition. She makes sure the vaccinations are given and the nets are over the beds: her children are much more likely to go to school and stay in school. If the mother dies, chances are that her children will be taken out of school and if there’s a choice of a boy or girl staying in school, the girl is more likely to be taken out to care for the family.

Mothers are crucial and the knock-on impact of a mother’s death is huge.  In the countries we work in, in Africa, women produce 70% of the wealth; in countries with an agricultural base, they produce 80%. Take the mother out of the equation, and this plunges families further into poverty. It’s also one factor in civil unrest, because when someone is left without a mother, growing up, it can cause issues with anger and mental health that cannot easily be addressed. Losing your mother can have such a massive impact.

We concentrate on helping women feel that they have worth, on feeling that in receiving this precious medication to save their lives, they are worth it. In one story when IHP medication stopped a woman from haemorrhaging and saved her life, the woman told us: “Thank you for not letting my children be orphans.” We need to make women feel valued, then they can develop a sense of self worth and go on to greater things.”

 

In global health and perhaps also in your specific area, do you think we have seen progress for women’s equality and life chances in the last five years?

“Overall the statistics are not getting too much better, and the numbers of women dying are not coming down as they should. I feel the lack of political will is disgraceful, but so much else is going on that it can drop off the agenda. If 300,000 men were dying each year from preventable causes, don’t you think more would be done about it? We do fly the flag and in two of the main countries we work in, Liberia and Sierra Leone, things are getting better and rates of risk have improved, no question. In other places, it’s not so good. Nigeria and India, for example, account for a third of total maternal deaths worldwide. Nigeria is rich in resources and has a population three times that of the UK. It loses 60,000 women a year. We are working with someone in Nigeria whose focus is to accelerate progress on the sustainable development goals (SDGs), and we are asking him to make maternal health the top priority.”

 

What are the achievements that should be celebrated?

“More countries are including women as senior members of their governments. In Liberia, the minister of health is not only a woman but also a doctor, so she understands these issues on more than one level. Overall there is more of a presence of women in politics, which is so important. In Rwanda, more than half of the government is female and there are more female presidents in Africa.”

 

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