A giving story with Dr Lee Meakin, featuring the Barbara May Foundation

Our goal at APS is to inspire effective giving. By providing a space for the APS community to share their motivations and passions to give, we hope to create better understanding in the community about the benefits of structured giving and encourage more people to do it.

APS spoke to APS Foundation giving (sub) fund holder Dr Lee Meakin about why it was important to her to support the Barbara May Foundation. We also chatted with Dr Andrew Browning AM, medical director of the Barbara May Foundation, to understand more about the Foundation’s work in maternal healthcare in Africa.

Dr Lee Meakin is a General Practitioner in Ballarat, Victoria and while volunteering in Africa in 2017 met Dr Andrew Browning AM at the Selian Lutheran Hospital in Arusha, Tanzania.

The hospital conditions that Dr Meakin witnessed were incredibly basic. Dr Browning would operate with a camping head torch to provide light when the electricity failed and for security reasons carried antibiotics and medical supplies with him under lock and key.

However, more shocking for Dr Meakin than the rudimentary medical facilities was the plight of many of the African women she met.

Due to a lack of primary obstetric healthcare, approximately two million African women are incontinent of urine (and sometimes also faeces) after a traumatic birth. With no way to manage their incontinence, and sometimes even in pain from nerve damage, the women’s husbands and communities shun them. They suffer tortuous mental health issues from the feelings of shame and of living in isolation, often for decades.

Dr Browning’s surgery changes all of that, enabling the woman to re-enter society. They can return to work, sometimes re-marry and even have more children, but only under medical supervision.

This year Dr Meakin visited Dr Browning’s new facility, the Kivulini Hospital in Arusha, Tanzania. Funded solely by donations, this improved centre provides free healthcare to the poorest African women. Given that the children of a mother who dies in childbirth are 10x more likely to die before the age of five, the facility helps to stabilise the entire community. The hospital is also dramatically reducing the infant mortality rate and sparing mothers the ordeal of the injuries associated with traumatic childbirth.

Dr Browning’s vision is for a future where obstetric fistula no longer exists.

Upon her return to Australia and inspired by Dr Browning’s good work, Dr Meakin arranged for a donation to be paid from her giving (sub) fund in the APS Foundation to the Barbara May Foundation.

“It was a straightforward decision for me to decide to support the Foundation,” said Dr Meakin. “I saw with my own eyes that the organisation was well-run, and I could see the impact that my donation could have in the lives of these women and their families.”

“I created an APS Foundation giving (sub) fund as my husband and I wanted to make supporting charities a priority. The first thing we did was to ask our financial adviser to research the options, and his advice was that APS provided a quality product. The fund was easy to set up, the return on the investment is excellent and making donations is easy to do. It enables us to evaluate which causes we want to support and to give this support in a measured and committed way.”

Dr Browning works with his aunt, Australian nurse Valerie Browning AM. Valerie has spent 44 years living and working in Africa, with 25 of those years among the Afar nomads in Tanzania. In the 2018 financial year, Barbara May Foundation-funded facilities delivered 16,000 babies in safe conditions and treated 308 fistula patients. They also trained eight fistula surgeons and 150 midwives in the safe delivery of babies.

The organisation has an active volunteer Board and a part-time administrator in Australia supporting the Brownings and a medical team of 165+ people on the ground at locations in Tanzania and Ethiopia.

For Dr Browning, part of the Foundation’s success comes from its focus on building trust and real partnerships with the local communities over the long-term. Collectively Dr Browning and his aunt Valerie have been working in sub-Saharan Africa for more than 60 years.

“We provide access to caring, evidence-based maternal healthcare to women of all religions, races or financial backgrounds with patience, respect and cultural sensitivity. Our maternal healthcare is lifesaving,” said Dr Browning.

“We are giving women back their dignity and hope.”

Related links:

Dr Browning of the Barbara May Foundation with a patient