Mater Women’s Health Physiotherapist Megan Newell is about to embark on her first missionary effort to support women in need and the clinicians caring for them.
Next month, Ms Newell will travel to the Democratic Republic of Congo as part of an 11-person medical team from Brisbane that is volunteering to support and train staff at the Heal Africa Hospital.
The hospital is located within the City of Goma, which borders on Rwanda and the Congo in east-central Africa.
Ms Newell said the hospital was established almost two decades ago and provides general surgery, paediatrics, and obstetrics services, but only recently opened a new fistula wing — which is where her expertise in women’s health physiotherapy will be optimised.
“I have been a physiotherapist for 27 years and have always worked within the fields of paediatrics and women’s health,” she said.
“My role will be to provide services — specifically pelvic floor muscle rehabilitation and education pre- and post-surgery — to obstetric and fistula repair patients, as well as train the Congolese staff who have not previously had any training in pelvic floor rehabilitation.”
Ms Newell said an obstetric fistula can occur when a mother has a prolonged and obstructed labour, without access to emergency medical care, and results in holes (known as fistulae) between the mother’s vagina and her bladder or rectum.
“When left untreated, the patient will uncontrollably leak bodily fluids and waste, for the rest of her life,” she said.
“It’s important to me to support these women in undeveloped countries with limited access to healthcare and remind them that they’re not forgotten, while upskilling the clinicians who care for them.”
Ms Newell is hopeful the opportunity will also enable her to learn about the cultures and birth practices of African women, so she can bring that knowledge home and better support Mater’s Physiotherapy offerings, including through the Mater Refugee Health Service.
When asked how she learned of the opportunity, Ms Newell said she is following the footsteps of Mater Midwife Sharon Ward who went on a similar mission in 2018.
“Sharon was part of the last medical team to assist at the hospital, with missions ceasing following the outbreak of Ebola, and more recently, the coronavirus pandemic.”
This Thursday (19 August) — World Humanitarian Day — we’re celebrating Sharon, Megan and the team heading to the City of Goma.
Mater has a long history of responding to unmet need within the community, and its inspiring to see this embodied in our Mater People — wherever they may go.