UK aid is slowly nursing Liberia back to health

Beth Rowlands meets a nurse in Liberia
Beth Rowlands meets a nurse in Liberia
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SICK and exhausted, a pregnant woman arrived at an overburdened Liberian health clinic clinging to the motorcyclist who had taken her there.

With no ambulance available, it was a stark contrast to the health care Beth Rowlands was used to seeing working as a nurse in the UK.

Beth, 34, from Stockbridge, was among a group of doctors and nurses sent to the West African country by Save the Children as part of its campaign to stand up for health workers.

Beth, who lives with husband Mark Swinhoe, 35, a computer programmer, said: “The experience was humbling – comparing what the health staff deal with, using the resources they have, with our country.

“I saw firsthand the extreme poverty and hardship that most Liberians live with and the challenges that health professionals face delivering care in a country which is still recovering from a devastating civil war.”

Liberia’s second civil war broke out in 1999 and left infrastructure such as schools and hospitals destroyed. The country now faces a huge shortage of health care workers.

Beth, who is originally from Sheffield, said: “People in Liberia are dying of preventable conditions, such as malaria, because they can’t get access to health care workers. Maternal mortality rates are very high.

“While I was there, a woman arrived sandwiched between two friends on a motorbike, she was having problems with her pregnancy.

“There is no ambulance service in Liberia and many people who are very sick have to walk for a day to access health care.”

But Beth added: “It was clear the difference that aid from the UK is making. I felt so encouraged by what I saw but at the same time it all felt so fragile.”

During their visit, the group met the Liberian Assistant Health Minister and the Liberian Midwifery Association, as well as nurses, midwives and doctors in facilities around the country.

In a few weeks David Cameron will visit Liberia to have discussions on poverty reduction with a UN High Level Panel.

Trip organiser Simon Wright, of Save the Children, said: “Liberia has a population of 4.1 million people yet there are less than 100 doctors and less than 1500 nurses in the country.

“Save the Children is calling for more health workers who are better resourced in free, publicly-funded health services. Health workers play such a vital role in reducing maternal and child mortality.”