Biking it saves mothers and babies


Sarah Smith combines her love of adventure with helping mothers and children.

Biking through the mountains of North Africa is a continent away from Sarah Smith’s night job at Shoalhaven District Hospital.

So was a two-day stopover at remote Gimbie Hospital, seeing with her own eyes the health problems that mean up to one in seven Ethiopian pregnancies ends in death.

Sarah and her Australian cycling colleagues were moved.

‘We came away thinking – what the hell can we do to help?’ she said. ‘There is just so much needed to improve the outcomes for these women.’

What they did was set up a fund for hospitals in the West Wollega district to buy rudimentary motorcycle ambulances, a hit in Tanzania where the government has invested in 300 of them.

Sarah says there are many reasons for mother and child mortality in Ethiopia and transport is one of them.

‘The ambulances are something practical that can transport women in labour to medical facilities more quickly and comfortably,’ she said. ‘Some women we saw were carried to hospital by their partners on chairs.’

The NSW Nurses’ Association made a contribution towards the expenses of Sarah’s participation in the Ethiopia Bike Ride Challenge, a fundraiser organised by registered charity, Maternity Worldwide.

Sarah said she would never forget the three-week experience although it was far from her first foray out of first-world comfort.

The Shoalhaven Hospital after hours manager and her sister, Melbourne midwife Penny Skinder, have been spending most of their annual leave on exotic adventure, since 2003.

Together, they have knocked off Mount Kilimanjaro, walked the Kokoda Track, climbed to the base camp on Mt Everest, and visited Antarctica on a Russian ice-breaker.

After three weeks in Ethiopia, they joined forces with another Melbourne midwife, Sheree Stewart, to launch their motorcycle ambulance appeal.

‘Ethiopia is one experience I will never forget,’ Sarah said. ‘Medical conditions are basic in many areas but the happiness and hope of the people we met was uplifting.

‘I feel privileged to be able to do something for such a worthwhile project.’

Check out Maternity Worldwide –