Sunday, July 25, 2010

Footsteps to Healing

Ellen is one of my best friends. She is shy about me talking about her, but she probably can't complain that I want you to know that she is a thoughtful, generous person who has committed her working life to helping women have safe and wonderful pregnancies and births. (She certainly did that for me.)

Ellen has gotten involved with an important volunteer project and I am sharing it with you in the hopes that you would also see its importance, and do what you can to help.

Ellen is part of a committed group of doctors, nurses and midwives that have partnered with a hospital in Gimbie, Ethiopia on a project called "Footsteps to Healing." It is an effort to improve women’s health and decrease maternal morbidity and mortality through health care provision and local capacity building in rural Ethiopia. (In lay terms, they are sending people to Ethiopia to do surgeries and to help the women and clinicians plan for the future.)

Lack of trained health providers in rural Ethiopia contributes to alarmingly high maternal mortality and morbidity from preventable causes such as postpartum hemorrhage, infection, hypertensive diseases of pregnancy and obstructed labor. Donations will support collaboration between Gimbie Adventist Hospital (GAH) and Oregon Health and Science University to provide training to Ethiopian providers in the areas of safe pregnancy and delivery, management of obstetric emergencies, gynecologic surgery and family planning.

The sustainable partnership includes work with GAH College of Health Sciences to assist in formal educational training of nurses and midwives, collaborative improvement of clinical practice and research, and provision of training in gynecologic surgery technique especially in the management of uterovaginal prolapse and obstetric fistula.

I feel especially interested in the success of this project because it is both an effort to improve women's health now and to build the local residents' capacity to improve their own lives. I have been thinking about this a lot, especially after Holly wrote about misguided efforts to help those in need in ways that objectify those they are supposed to be helping, alienate them or just plain show the ignorance of the "helpers". (If by some crazy chance you don't already read Cold Spaghetti, read this and then this.)

The Footsteps to Healing project is the opposite. The clinicians that will travel to Ethiopia will provide direct assistance to women in the community. They will also be doing a needs assessment by talking with the patients and the local midwives and nurses about things like how the American clinicians can partner with their Ethiopian counterparts to improve women's health and safety long-term. They will be talking to people, not bond with the women or to make art inspired by their trip, but to figure out how they can help make positive change in collaboration with the women and clinicians of Gimbie.

The project is hosted through a great non-governmental organization called Global Soul International.

What the team is doing
The OHSU clinicians are raising money to send 7-9 people to Gimbie, Ethiopia: two attending physicians, one fellow, two nurse anaesthetists, one or two scrub nurses, one or two midwives, and a resident. Over a two week period the docs and nurses will do 3 to 4 gynecologic surgeries a day (around 40 over two weeks). The surgeries will help women with uterovaginal prolapse (weakened or collapsed uterus) and obstetric fistula (break between the vagina and anus or bladder).  The last group that went to Ethiopia to do these surgeries was met by women camping out overnight to reserve a place in line for a surgery and women literally dancing for joy after receiving surgery. This is a small 70 bed hospital with one obstetrician on staff. It means a lot to have a team of doctors, nurses and midwives come to conduct surgeries here.

2 attending physicians, one fellow two nurse anaesthetists, one or two scrub nurses, one or two midwives and a resident. We are shooting for 3-4 cases a day, probably 20/week x 2 weeks

The team plans to send surgeons, nurse anesthetists, an ob-gyn, nurses, a few residents and 1-2 midwives. In addition to conducting surgeries, the team will conduct a needs assessment by talking with women and the hospital staff about what they need (birth support, labor preparation, birth control, etc). The midwives will be working with the dean of the school of nursing (herself a midwife) to help figure out how they can work together to meet the hospital's and women's long term needs. This includes establishing a local midwife training center in order to improve women's health through pregnancy and childbirth.

So here is the part where I say: please help. 
There are actually a lot of things you can do.

(1) Have a book club? Ask your book club to join with the many others that are reading the novel Cutting for Stone. You can donate the money you would have spent on snacks. 

(2) Even better, buy your copies of Cutting for Stone (or any book) through Powell's Books online using this link and 10% of your purchase will go to the Footsteps to Healing Project. ANY book you buy through this link will give money to the project. You should be buying your books through Powell's anyway, because they have everything.

(3) Set up an account with GoodShop (with Global Soul as your charity of choice) and your online shopping can lead to 2-5% donations from major retailers at no cost to you. A few extra clicks can make a big difference!

(4) Host a dinner.  I know many of you are wonderful cooks and love to spend time with your friends and family over a long meal. Invite people over for dinner and ask them to donate what they would have paid to go out to dinner.  

(5) Learn more: For more information on the state of women's health in Ethiopia you can download this publication (for free!)

(6) And of course, you can donate directly.  Any amount will be appreciated. A gift of $175 covers the cost of prolapse surgery, hospitalization and post-surgical care for one woman. Follow this link to donate by paypal via the Global Soul website. (Click the "donate" link on the site.)

One more thing, for those of you who live in Portland:
Attend the August 4 showing of the award-winning documentary “A Walk to Beautiful”.  This film follows five Ethiopian women as they seek treatment for vesico-vaginal fistula, an all too common complication of vaginal childbirth in developing countries.

ethiopia movie poster

Where:  Hollywood Theater, 4122 Northeast Sandy Blvd, Portland, OR
When: August 4th, 2010.  Doors open: 6:30pm, movie begins: 7:00pm.
Entrance Fee: $10.00
Donations: Any donation above the entrance fee will be much appreciated. Donations can be made at the door or online via the paypal link under the donation tab at  (Designate the OHSU-Gimbie project in the pay pal message or mail to GlobalSoul International, Gimbie/OHSU project. 6416 SW Corbett Avenue, Portland, OR 97239. Tax exempt receipts will be provided.)

Thank you, from me and the clinicians working to help the women of Gimbie. 
Thank you for reading this, for supporting this important cause, and for taking action where you can. This work means a lot to many women. The fact that we will never meet these women does not mean their health and welfare are any less important.

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