Dr Grace Kodindo & Angela Gorman

As I drove home from work on the neonatal ICU on that evening, the 26th June 2005, my very tired mind was certainly not on Africa. It was reflecting on one of the busiest days we had experienced in a very long time, plus the fact that this was my daughter’s 34th birthday and that all those years ago I was equally exhausted, but for very different reasons. Today’s shift had lasted two hours longer than it should have..nobody’s fault. I smiled as I thought “babies have no respect for shift times, breaks, or even the need for me to go to the toilet!”

I arrived home at 9.45pm instead of 7.45pm as planned. My husband was out. I turned the kettle and the television on and sat down to watch the 10pm news. At the end of the news bulletin, I decided that I wouldn’t bother to make the coffee, I would go to bed and reached for the remote control to turn the TV off. At the last moment, I decided to turn the TV off at the switch. That decision was the moment which changed my life. In the unusually lengthy time it took to get my exhausted self out of the chair and in front of the TV, the newsreader had said “In PANORAMA which is coming up, there is a report from the Central African country of Chad, where a single doctor is fighting to save the lives of pregnant women.” Something made me change my mind about switching the TV off and I turned around and sat down again.

I watched in horror as Dr Grace Kodindo was working to achieve the impossible, to save the lives of mothers and babies in her care. In this hospital where up to 1000 women were delivered each month, at least one woman was dying every day from treatable complications and up to a quarter of the babies did not survive. It was evident that the root cause of these deaths was poverty. Women without money and therefore unable to purchase medications were dying for the want of 50 pence worth of medicines.

At the end of the programme, I made a very strong cup of coffee, opened the atlas to see where Chad was located, logged onto the BBC PANORAMA website and wrote to the producer. Five months later, I was sat with three other people who had contacted the BBC in the very hospital I had seen, talking to Dr Grace Kodindo about how we couldn’t ignore the programme and that something had made us all get up and want to help.

A week before this, our ninth anniversary, I wrote to Dr Grace Kodindo to ask whether she would be able to be at a computer Thursday 26th June so that we could chat via Skype and reflect on what had been achieved. Happily, she agreed. I knew that in the 4-5 years following the programme, a new maternity hospital had been built in Chad’s capital N’djamena to replace the HGRN which we had visited twice. What I wasn’t aware of until this very day was that the Chadian government had agreed that pregnant women would have free healthcare throughout their pregnancies which would include medications and deliveries including caesarean sections. As Dr Grace explained these incredible developments, I became emotional and couldn’t help but think whether the attention which Dr Grace had brought to her country’s government, what she called a “new conscience”…. awareness of the tragedy of maternal mortality which appeared to have melted the heart of their President. We talked about how women needed to be empowered and made to realise how precious they are; how avoidable death is readily accepted as being god or Allah’s will in so many cultures and how education for women and men is desperately needed to challenge popular misconceptions such as that of the mother being responsible for the sex of a baby, when the reality is that it is the father who determines whether the baby is a boy or a girl.

Nine years on, our organisation is supplying hospitals across Sub Saharan Africa with enough medications to treat around 25,000 women each year, who could die from two of the biggest killers of pregnant and newly delivered mothers. I have visited 12 countries, landing on African soil 24 times. I have babies named after me, met four amazing young men who have adopted me as their mother, gained several African brothers and sisters, facilitated life changing visits to Africa by UK midwives and doctors, met Archbishop Desmond Tutu and best of all, looked deeply into the eyes of a woman who was told where the medication which saved her life following birth had come from. She clearly knew, that I knew that our actions had saved her life. She had decided to call her baby Angela….I am so privileged to have been honoured in this way. My life is all the richer for the new direction which my life took on that night….and all because I decided to do my bit to save the planet and not use the remote control! Little did I know that this seemingly insignificant decision wouldn’t exactly save the planet, but undoubtedly has saved lives.”

By Angela Gorman CEO of Life for African Mothers