MEDACT Director, Marion Birch, Gives Talk on Global Health Issues at School of Nursing and Midwifery

Posted on: 13 April 2007

Marion Birch, the Director of MEDACT, the UK-based charity working on global health issues gave a public talk today on  April 11th last at the School of Nursing and Midwifery, Trinity College Dublin, as part of the School’s 10-year celebrations. The talk, entitled, Fatima’s Story: the human face of health statistics, was a summary of the international forces that influence the health of one woman and her family.

MEDACT’s new Director is a nurse and midwife with 13 years’ experience of overseas work in the conflict-affected regions of the Sudan, Mozambique, Angola and Sri Lanka. Ms Birch specialised in public health in peri-urban areas and camps for the displaced, working with public health services and local community groups on prevention programmes and rebuilding health services.  She has been focusing on the rehabilitation of health services in settings recovering from major conflict in recent times. Her experience has led her to question the underlying causes of ill health in situations of conflict and in resource poor environments: the examples of Iraq and Darfur would be current ones to which Marion’s insights would be applicable. 

In the course of the talk on Fatima’s Story, the MEDACT director spoke on the implications of aid architecture, collapsing health systems, and international economic decisions for the millions of people in Fatima’s position globally:

“Fatima is one of many women in her region living in camps for internally displaced people (IDPs),” the MEDACT Director explained. “She is four months pregnant, and has to collect wood for cooking at an increasing distance from the camp where she has lived for the last 6 months. The reasons why she has to walk further in an insecure situation and collect the amount of wood she does are closely related both to the source and quality of food aid and to the  changing environment at the sharp end of climate change. 

“Should Fatima need a Caesarean section this would have to be done at the local district hospital which is severally understaffed due to health worker out-migration. The reasons why health workers are leaving are many but principal among them appears to be the economic downturn and its effects on their standard of living. Yet key international economic institutions do not consider the health consequences of their decisions. 

“Following the birth of her baby Fatima will want to plan her life for the good of herself and her child. Yet some major donor funding may limit her options and impose beliefs and values from the other side of the globe, making her already difficult social environment even harder.”

Ms Birch  also addressed how we can engage more effectively to challenge such unacceptable outcomes on behalf of such vulnerable populations.

The seminar was chaired by Iain Atack, Chairperson of AfRI the Irish NGO engaged in peace and justice issues internationally. Mr Atack lectures in the School of Ecumenics, TCD.