Meet our Speakers: Claire Reading

Meet our Speakers: Claire Reading

A short bio…

“I worked a midwife in big London teaching hospital, St.Georges in Tooting where I learnt so many skills. From there I went to work in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2015 with MSF (Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières), and from there I worked on a teaching project in Bangadesh and then back to humanitarian midwifery in Haiti and South Sudan.

Most recently I’ve been working in a birth centre in Weston-Super-Mare in the South West of the England. Interestingly, a lot of the issues and challenges I face are similar all over the globe – teenage pregnancy, power issues, gender inequality, questions and misunderstandings around feeding babies, fear of birth,inequity of women’s health services… “.

  •  How did you decide to join MSF?

I was bought up watching current affairs and knew I wanted to work with MSF – as they have always been so well respected and, in my opinion, mostly very effective and good at what they do – I wanted to be a part of something structured that would have an impact, not something on paper. Interestingly, they refused my application the first time I applied – which in hindsight was the right thing- I wasn’t ready, I didn’t have enough exposure, confidence or experience. 

  •  Midwifery has a wide scope of practice in conflict zones that most of us are unaware of. Can describe your main duties as an MSF midwife?

It includes a lot of abortion care and high risk births – many women don’t always come straight to our facility, due to access issues, or cultural beliefs that the hospital is a frightening place to be, so I see a lot of obstructed labors(that need a caesarean section often) and premature births (often, we think this could be due to stress, but we don’t have any evidence), I see a lot of women with malnutrition and malaria and other infections.

Education levels are extremely low amongst women and girls in DRC and South Sudan, and this influences their understanding of not only their bodies, but of healthcare and medicine as a whole.

We also care for a lot of women affected by gender-based violence (rape, sexual assault, domestic abuse).

  •  What kind of difficulties do women in conflict zones face regarding sexual and reproductive health?

Access to a midwife, let alone to a doctor is very difficult. This can be due to a lack of qualified healthcare staff, or displacement (movement of people, and if you have money you can leave easier). Also, access to a hospital or clinic when there are many militias/armed groups with road blocks can mean it’s not safe for women to access care, that and the lack of infrastructure – so no transport, no roads to travel on.

Small communities as well as women living in camps have a lack of confidentiality, so coming to see the midwife is not always as easy as it might appear – everyone knows everyone. Men can also have more than one wife, and this in turn affects the rates of STI’s (sexually transmitted infections).

Food security is a major issue – so I sadly see a high prevalence of malnutrition in pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers.

  •  How has your experience with MSF improved you as a professional and a person?

I feel it has really given me so many special times, both happy and sad – as a team we have literally saved lives, that concept is quite hard for us to accept. I’ve met people in places i would never have gone if I hadn’t been with my MSF team.

Professionally, I’m a better midwife because I’m more patient, I think and hope I am a better listener and I really enjoy being an advocate, the fire and passion for speaking up and especially speaking up for somebody who needs their voice to be heard is even stronger than before I went to work in low income, low resource settings.

I have had the privilege to meet people from all over world from such diverse backgrounds, and call them colleagues, and some are friends for life. I also really appreciate working in the UK, but we still have a lot to do here in relation to equitable access to healthcare for pregnant women.

  •  Why do you think is it so important to raise awareness on the subject of contraception in low resource countries?

Being able to choose when and with whom to have baby, if at all should not be something in the 21st century that is only ‘available’ and ‘accessable’ to ‘some’ women. It is a human right to be able to have control of your own body. Often, I hear the phrase ‘oh but women just keep on having children in these awful war torn places’… maybe we should look at this a little deeper and kinder, they are not always choosing to have large families due to the above reasons I’ve already highlighted. It’s about equity. And it’s a long, continuous fight.

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