A ROTHER councillor swapped the comfort of the Town Hall to help deliver babies in one of the poorest nations in Africa.
Angharad Davies, who represents the Crowhurst ward, flew out to Ethiopia on January 14 to volunteer for five weeks at a maternity hospital.
Dr Davies worked as a consultant in obstetrics and gynaecology prior to her retirement in 2006.
Volunteering through the Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynaecologists, Angharad travelled to Mille in the Afar desert region to act as a senior doctor at the Barbara May Maternity Hospital.
Angharad, who lives in Staplecross Road, Northiam, said: “The people who live there are the Afar people who are nomadic pastoralists, which means they go from place to place with their sheep and goats and a few camels looking for new pastures.
“They probably have never come up against any sort of healthcare until they come into the Barbara May Maternity Hospital, perhaps in labour, or they come to an anti-natal clinic.”
Angharad ran anti-natal clinics and gynaecology clinics twice a week at the Barbara May and organised elective and emergency operations, including caesarean sections.
Angharad said she had found the volunteering experience ‘mind-expanding’ and had dealt with cases she had never experienced during her career in the UK.
Some women on the ward were suffering from malaria and others were HIV positive.
One woman had travelled for days to get to the hospital and there were several cases of severe pre-eclampsia - a life-threatening condition that can occur during pregnancy.
As well as the medical challenges faced by Angharad and other staff and volunteers at the hospital, there were also communication difficulties.
Angharad said: “In this particular hospital, there were four different languages spoken: Afar, Amharic, some English and some French. That means that every patient seen required one, or sometimes two, translators.”
The hospital was set up by Australian charity the Barbara May Foundation.
The project was started by Dr Margaret McDugald and the hospital building was completed in autumn 2011.
Built to Western standards, with a large ward, operating theatre, clinic, big waiting area and training room, the facility is manned by a number of Ethiopian nursing staff and three trained Ethiopian midwives.
While working at the Barbara May, Angharad was joined by two NHS midwives from Kings Lynn. None of the volunteers are paid and have to fund the trip themselves.
Speaking about her experience in Ethiopia, Angharad said: “I have been to Africa before and lived in South Africa for a while when I was a child, but I had never done any volunteering work before.
“It was mind expanding as I learnt so much about life in Ethiopia and about the demands of healthcare in the developing world. I learnt how you have to adapt your knowledge to the needs of the people there.”
Angharad hopes to do similar work in Tanzania in 2014.
Angharad can be contacted via Cllr.Angharad.Davies@rother.gov.uk