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Stark message of Global Voices journey - many women still dying due to childbirth

Published:04 June 2018

CQUni Clinical Ultrasound student Natalie Ward pictured at the World Health Assembly held recently in Geneva, Switzerland.

There was a stark message of reality during Natalie Ward's second day at the World Health Assembly in Geneva, Switzerland, recently.

She was attending a session on global surgery for advancing women's health and maternal health medicines in the face of post-partum haemorrhage (excessive bleeding after childbirth).

"They told us that, during this session, 15 women will die due to childbirth!" said Natalie, who is studying a Graduate Certificate in Clinical Ultrasound with CQUniversity.

The Melbourne-based student took the CQU Global Outbound opportunity to travel with Global Voices, which offers practical experience in foreign policy and international relations.

Her second-day World Health Assembly session focused on the quality of maternal health medicines; an issue often overlooked in women’s health.

"To prevent post-partum haemorrhage, the WHO guidelines recommend the use of oxytocin (used to contract the uterus)," Natalie says.

"Many low- and middle-income countries have easy access to oxytocin, but that the quality is often sub-par. In fact, in 2018 in Nigeria, over 70 per cent of oxytocin samples failed quality testing.

"Part of this is due to the strict manufacturing and transportation requirements; oxytocin quickly degrades when exposed to heat and must be kept refrigerated.

"It was fantastic to hear from Concept Foundation panellists who are not only working with countries towards improved manufacturing, transport, labelling and training of individuals working with oxytocin, but also towards alternatives to oxytocin that will suit the needs of low- and middle-income countries.

"I am eagerly awaiting the results of their study into the effectiveness of Heat-Stable Carbetocin as an alternative to oxytocin. The difference that could be made to maternal health care from a drug that remains stable in heat and humidity is astounding!

"Poor quality is a waste of resources and of life, and the issue of improving maternal health is one that I have a newfound passion for exploring after such a powerful day at the WHA."

Natalie completed her Bachelor of Science (Honours) with a major in psychology at Melbourne University in 2014. After graduating, she commenced a Bachelor of Medicine/Bachelor of Surgery degree at Deakin University, which she is currently completing.

"Whilst studying, I have focused on jobs in the clinical research field, and have worked as a research assistant at the Royal Children’s Hospital, the Alfred Hospital, and most recently, as a research assistant on a clinical trial for patients with complex trauma disorder," she says.

Natalie says she enrolled in the CQUni Clinical Ultrasound course "after recognising early on in medical school that interpreting ultrasound images was not my strong suit".

"With the increasing utility of ultrasound in hospitals, I wanted to gain more experience in this area and chose to enrol at CQUni. I liked that the course could be completed online, something that I could do alongside medicine, but also had a residential school that would give me extensive hands-on training."

Natalie says there were a number of fantastic side events at the World Health Assembly that were incredibly informative and enjoyable.

"I chose to focus on attending women’s health events, and particularly enjoyed a session on pregnancy and non-communicable diseases," she says.

"For me, the most notable speaker was Dr Doris Chou, a medical officer working at the World Health Organisation. Dr Chou spoke about the importance of engaging patients in a dialogue about their mental health during pregnancy appointment.

"She reminded the audience that women are often willing, and grateful, to have the chance to speak to someone about their mental health, or domestic violence situations that they may be experiencing, but that health professionals are often not comfortable or competent in carrying out these conversations.

"She has worked on developing a tool that can be accessed by health professionals to help them start these potentially difficult conversations in an empathetic way, and I look forward to trying to introduce this resource to my medical school."

Natalie's Global Voices research proposal addressed two of the World Health Assembly focus healths: climate change and mental health.

"Recent research has highlighted the potentially negative impacts of climate-related disasters on mental health, with bushfires and flood of particular concern to Australia," she says.

"I am in the process of reviewing the research in this area, and developing a proposal of different policy initiatives that could be implemented in at-risk communities to foster resilience and positive-coping strategies, to promote positive mental health throughout a climate-related event."

Outside her studies, Natalie enjoys hiking and lists the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal as her favourite hike so far.

She also enjoys painting, particularly watercolour anatomy, and launched her Brush & Water online store in 2015.

The busy student also volunteers with Very Special Kids as a family support worker for families of a child with potentially life-threatening illness.