In the beginning of 2015 a member of our team of directors, Alastair, read an online article about infant mortality rates in sub-Saharan Africa. The article explained how the majority of these unfortunate deaths are caused by inadequate nutrition as opposed to the popular belief that low calorie intake is the main contributing factor to this adversity. Alastair enlightened the team at Oxford Vitality about this common misconception and explained to us that we were in a good position to support a large number of people in need.
At Oxford Vitality we thought it best to find a charity to ensure that our contributions could be put to good use. We did a lot of research and tried to contact some major charities, but soon enough it became apparent that the task was going to be harder than anticipated. We had some very disappointing feedback as many charities expected that we wanted to donate cash while others wanted to pay for the goods that we wanted to donate. From our side we felt that a donation of our products would be more suitable as we make the products and they were in high demand. After much ado we finally came across “Life for African Mothers” (LFAM). We contacted the charity to offer our assistance and received prompt reply from the head of the organization, Angela Gorman. She explained to us how she had been running the charity full-time for about 8 years and that the staff of “Life for African Mothers” consisted of a seemingly insignificant number of people. However, Angela reasoned that they were a force to be reckoned with. According to her they had been supplying medicines to 12 different countries for a period of 15 years. On top of this she arranges for midwives from the UK to work with local midwives in Africa to train them and teach them some new skills.
Angela was delighted with the donation and ensured us that through her existing network she could make sure that the products reached the people who were most in need directly. She started working with James Allan our production engineer and Professor Alison Fiander Chair, Obstetrics & Gynaecology at Cardiff University to formulate a supplement that would benefit mother and child throughout pregnancy. Angela suggested that our donation would benefit post-Ebola Liberia most and informed us that she was planning a trip to the country as soon as it was declared Ebola-free. The team at Oxford Vitality decided to travel to Liberia with her to bring the first donation of 280,000 tablets in order to gain perspective on where and how the tablets would be used.
On 9 May 2015, Liberia was declared Ebola-free and we planned the trip and on the 1st of June the team came together at Gatwick Airport in London. The determined team consisted of 4 midwives (Olivia, Emily, Rachel and Cerian), Angela, Elizabeth and our team from Oxford Vitality (Richard and Alastair). Angela was intending on delivering lots of baby clothes with Liz, a donor to LFAM. Seeing as there aren’t any direct flights from the UK to Liberia, we had to travel via Morocco, but nonetheless our 4 hour stopover in Casablanca gave us a chance to get better acquainted with each other. Finally, 12 hours after departing from Gatwick, we arrived in Monrovia, Liberia.
Angela’s local contact, Abdul, with whom she had been working for 5 years met up with us. In view of the fact that he works within the LMHRA (Liberia Medicines and Health Products Regulatory Authority) he was the right person to distribute medicines (including our products) throughout the health system. After our meeting with Abdul, we travelled to a local hotel and settled in.
Over the next 7 days we had the opportunity of visiting a number of hospitals and Ebola clinics and met people who were hard at work to rebuild Liberia after the devastation caused by the epidemic. It was shocking to see how much damage the Ebola outbreak had done to the local infrastructure. Almost every hospital had lost important staff members and had exhausted most or even all of their resources.
The midwives had the opportunity of working with 20 local midwives and both parties learnt some new skills from one another. The local midwives were keen on continuing the development of their skills and were interested in improving their practice methods. We were glad to see how excited they were about improving nutritional support for mothers and babies. With proper skill training and the support of decent medications, progress could be within reach.
The Oxford Vitality team had the opportunity of talking to pharmacists at every hospital we visited and we learnt about the struggles they were facing. A frequent complaint was that although medicines were available, birthing mothers had to pay for it themselves and could often not afford these privileges. They explained how direct donations to the hospitals would be most beneficial. We were impressed by their knowledge about the nutrients pregnant and nursing women needed in their diets. Despite their impeccable knowledge of nutritional supplements, the fact remained that the correct foods and products were either not available whatsoever or too expensive. They were elated at the prospect of providing people, especially pregnant and nursing mothers, with the needed supplements and believed that through such an opportunity infant deaths and failed pregnancies could be limited or perhaps even prevented.
Abdul invited us to visit the offices of the LMHRA. We had a very informative talk with him during which he explained that a big issue that they were facing was the continuous battle with the importation of substandard or bogus medicines from Asia. He even presented us with examples of how their progress was held back by such deceitfulness.
Our last day had arrived and we had to head back home. We were thankful for having gained new friendships and for what we had learnt. The dispensing methods of the pharmacists was one thing that especially stood out. In the UK, we are accustomed to buying or selling whole monthly packages of tablets. In strong contrast to this, in Liberia, the pharmacists are supplied by large amounts of tablets through donations. Manufacturers often send bulk supplies of around 5,000 tablets per package. These tablets are then dispensed as required or as availability allows. This information was valuable to us as we learnt how to tailor our donation to their specific needs so that this donation and future ones could be assembled in a way that would make it easy for them to use. When the time came to make our donation, we decided to pack up all the tablets and send them to Liberia.
We at Oxford Vitality are delighted with the fact that we have found a cause worth supporting and a place where our support would make a real difference. We have pledged to donate 2 million loose tablets per year to “Life for African Mothers” to make our contribution to their effort of overcoming the obstacle that is the needles loss of young lives.