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Fernanda, a midwife in Timor-Leste (East Timor), has just finished a family planning consult with a couple who have 10 children. That’s not unusual. Most women in Timor-Leste have around six kids, some as many as 14.
“I often meet my clients for the first time when they’re pregnant. After I deliver the baby, I run through the different contraceptive options,” Fernanda explains. “Often it’s the first time they’ve been offered contraception. And they’re very interested.”
In Timor-Leste, just 600 kilometres north of Darwin, there is only one doctor for every 10,000 people. In Australia, it’s one to 334. It’s not unusual for women to travel for hours to get to a clinic, only to find that there’s no doctor on duty.
So where there are doctor shortages, Marie Stopes International trains midwives and nurses to perform basic procedures. “Having a trained nurse on hand is the difference between life and death for many women,” says Fernanda.
She recalls an outreach session when she met a mother of eight, Marciana, who was very pale and dizzy. Marciana explained that three days earlier, she’d had a miscarriage and that she now wanted an IUD.
Fernanda examined her and found that the miscarried foetus had become stuck in her cervix. “It was very serious,” says Fernanda. “Left untreated, she would likely have died from an infection.”
Fernanda was able to treat Marciana’s condition and delivered the foetus. Afterwards, she was able to provide her with the IUD she wanted. To this day, the catch up whenever Fernanda is in town. “Marciana always calls in to let us know how she and her family are doing. It’s great to see them happy and healthy.”
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