< Nursing Archives – Mamie Martin Fund

Success story for International Women’s Day

In the WHO’s Year of the Nurse and Midwife, we’d like to offer an International Women’s Day greeting by sharing the story of Stella Dzimbiri, whom we supported at secondary school 2007 – 2010

Stella’s parents both died while she was in primary school and her maternal grandparents took over the care of all the siblings, as happens so often in Malawi. Stella was selected to Karonga Girls’ Secondary School (KAGSS) in 2006, a boarding school. She travelled there and started Form 1 with only a fraction of the money needed for fees, as so many other children do.

Stella was ‘chased’ from school to go home to fetch the rest of the fees. Again, this is not uncommon in Malawi. Stella’s grandparents did not have any more money so they sold their blankets and, after two weeks, raised enough money for the first term at KAGSS. By term 2 the school had seen the poverty of Stella’s family and she was awarded a Mamie Martin Fund bursary, through which she was supported for the rest of her time at KAGSS (2007 – 2010).

Stella secured a place to study nursing at Kamuzu Nursing College in Lilongwe. Again, she attended without money for fees and again was ‘chased’. She was then identified by the College for a Global AIDS Interfaith Alliance (GAIA) bursary which provided her with money for fees and some expenses. She completed that study in 2016. Stella is now a nursing officer in the paediatric surgery and intensive care unit at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Blantyre, Malawi.

Now married and with a one-year old son, Joseph, Stella was selected as part of a small group who will  spend 6 months in Norway on a professional exchange programme with Riks and Ullevål hospitals, Oslo University. She arrived there to start that new adventure in February 2020, “I will have to experience a new working environment with new skills that will be so helpful to my work back home.” About Norway, Stella says, “being in Norway it’s one of the greatest adventures. I will have to experience a lot of new things, which will help me have more advantage of even being able to fit into a lot of hospitals around the world. The weather is also one experience in Norway. People are so friendly here and they are ready to help me to achieve my objectives and goals. I can’t finish without recognizing how great is my God; I am a Christian who believes that everything I am going through is because of God’s grace and love.”

We are proud to know Stella and to have played a part in her journey from penniless orphan to professional exchange programme participant. Alongside her own family commitments, Stella now helps other girls who struggle with school fees. The photo shows her at the Riks hospital in her first week of work in Oslo. We wish her a happy and fulfilling time there and a safe return to her family.

A midwife’s night duty shift, Malawi, 1963

We are proud to have Alison Cameron as our Scottish Patron. So we were thrilled to see her 1963 snapshot of one night’s work published in the Society of Malawi Journal, Vol. 72, No. 1, 2019. We are grateful to the Journal for permission to share it with you on our website. In this article Alison describes the pressures and uncertainties of giving birth in Malawi. It was a dangerous business then and, even though maternal and infant mortality rates have fallen considerably, it is still a dangerous process for mother and baby.

Malawi infant mortality today is 39 per 1,000 live births (https://data.unicef.org/country/mwi/#), down from 64 in 2007. The SDG target for 2030 is to reduce it to 12 deaths per 1,000 live births globally. As a means of comparison, it is currently 4 deaths per 1,000 live births in the UK. Maternal health is also an area of grave concern in Malawi. Malawi’s most recent estimated maternal mortality ratio (MMR) is 439 per 100,000 live births (NSO Malawi & ICF, 2017); below the WHO (2015) estimate for the sub-Saharan African region of 546 ( in 2000, it was roughly 1120, so it has more than halved in 20 years).

Malawi’s proportion of institutional deliveries has increased sharply from 55% in 1992 to 90% in 2015-16 (NSO Malawi & ICF 2017). Malawi provides free maternity care, but quality of care appears suboptimal (Leslie et al, 2016; Ministry of Health Malawi & ICF International, 2014). Health centres offer basic emergency obstetric and new-born care; a limited number of referral hospitals offers more comprehensive services. Malawi’s health system is affected by severe lack of physical, financial and human resources (Chimwaza et al., 2014).

Alison  has been a supporter of the Mamie Martin Fund since it was founded. She and her husband, Colin, have worked for 60 years to build and maintain civil society and governmental links between Malawi and Scotland. The Scottish Government has honoured that work by creating an endowment fund in Alison’s name and asking us to administer it. This fund supports 45 girls through school and 4 at university over four years each.

Source: National Statistical Office – NSO/Malawi and ICF (2017). Malawi Demographic and Health Survey 2015-16. Available from: https://dhsprogram.com/publications/publication-fr319-dhs-final-reports.cfm. Accessed 31 January 2019. Zomba, Malawi, and Rockville, Maryland, USA: National Statistical Office and ICF.