Sharyn’s story: Midwifery mentoring in the Solomons
Clinical Midwifery Educator Sharyn Corboy spent 12 months as a Midwifery Mentor in the Solomon Islands for the AVID program, funded by the Australian Government. The maternal mortality rate in the Solomons is 130 per 100,000 births (in Australia it is six), while the neonatal mortality rate is 13 per 1000 live births (in Australia it is three). This is Sharyn’s story.
Reflecting back on my experience in the Solomons, I’ve learnt to be flexible, patient and to slow down – change takes time here. It’s been of great benefit to me, but more than that I’ve worked with very skillful, caring people who are trying to do the best for their country.
With a total population of just over half a million spread over 900 islands and in an area spanning 27,556 kilometres in the Pacific Ocean, access to adequate healthcare in the Solomon Islands is limited. As its name suggests, the National Referral Hospital (NRH) is where people are referred if they can’t be treated at their local outpost or hospital or need a higher level care. Malaria and tuberculosis are big health issues, as are diabetes, cancers and anaemia. A large number of women are anaemic from malaria, hookworm or dietary influences, which can impact on their and their babies’ health during and after pregnancy.
I worked together with NRH staff – doctors, midwives, nurses, student nurses and student midwives – to offer safe and quality care through the antenatal, labour and postnatal stages and support the staff to decrease the maternal and perinatal mortality and morbidity rate.
My day-to-day role was as varied as only nursing and midwifery can be. I could find myself working in the labour ward alongside staff to assess and support women in labour; birthing babies myself or supporting other staff as they do it; talking with breastfeeding mothers; or helping put clinical procedures together that will guide staff on how to provide the best and safest care for mothers and babies.
Australian volunteer Sharyn Corboy (right) with midwife Myonnie Kae and mother to be Anika Hiro in maternity ward of the National Referral Hospital (NRH) Honiara, Solomon Islands. Photographer: Darren James.
I was fortunate to work very closely with the Obstetrics & Gynaecology Nurse Educator, Anita Maepioh. She was new in her position and I was able to support her with that, but she has given me so much in return. She helped my understanding of what it’s like to live and work in the Solomon Islands, the importance of family and wantok, the role of culture, how being a nurse and a midwife has similar issues whatever country you live in.
The work we’ve done together to get a monthly Perinatal Death audit commenced and now an ongoing item on the monthly agenda has been of great significance to me on both a personal and a professional level. Staff are now talking about the main areas we can focus on – monitoring, communication and documentation – and changing practice to improve care. These are implementations that don’t require large budgets or resources but can help save lives.
Working positively with the hospital staff to bring about changes in practice and seeing staff working towards improving the health of their people was rewarding and helped me face the challenges I encountered during my time in the Solomon Islands. I had excellent support from my husband in Australia, Australian Volunteers International in-country office, NHR colleagues and new and old friends during my assignment. This support got me through some difficult times, but also gave me confidence in what I do and who I am.
This volunteering assignment is part of the Australian Volunteers for International Development (AVID) program, an Australian Government initiative.
Cover photo above: Australian volunteer Sharyn Corboy (centre) with baby girl, mother Lily Timan (back to camera), nurses Jacqlyn Gilbert and Vienn Zuna (far right) in maternity ward of the National Referral Hospital (NRH), Honiara, Solomon Islands. Photographer: Darren James.