Dr Zipporah Gathuya

“The surgeons were screaming they needed to get the baby out.” Zipporah is a Consultant Anaesthetist working in Kenya. Her areaRead more →




Dr Zipporah Gathuya

“The surgeons were screaming they needed to get the baby out.”

Zipporah is a Consultant Anaesthetist working in Kenya. Her area of interest is Paediatric Anaesthesia and anaesthesia education.

Why is access to safe obstetric surgery essential for women?

Women are the carers for the family, especially in low-income countries. There are always other people who they are taking care of, despite having just had a baby. And there is certainly not much income to spare for complications.

Most women go for delivery being healthy. For them to continue in that health is paramount.

And if they don’t get it? What is the impact on the baby?

When the mother has a difficult labour the child risks hypoxia [oxygen starvation] or another complication like cerebral palsy, which has such a high infant mortality rate. These children can become a big burden on the whole family, and usually have miserable lives.

I have also seen many children whose mothers died at delivery and whose relatives never came to pick them from the hospital. It is very sad for that child, who will never quite appreciate maternal love.

Is there a particular case that sticks in your mind?

When I was training a mother was brought to the labour ward with severe pre-eclampsia [a life-threatening complication of pregnancy]. She was 33 years old, on her third pregnancy but had no living baby.

Just as she was wheeled into the operating room for an emergency C-section she had a seizure and began vomiting. The surgeons were screaming they needed to get the baby out.

We delivered a live male infant, but the mother went into renal shutdown. It took her three weeks to recover, and she went home with her son after a month.

Access to safe anaesthesia was essential to her survival. Though it has been more than 10 years, the scenario is still very vivid in my mind.

What is the role of education here?

The impact and importance of education to the mothers on access to antenatal care cannot be overemphasized. Caesarean sections are now more acceptable, whereas initially women would have the notion that a Caesarean section was a sign of weakness.

Education and skill advancement of both the anaesthesia and surgery providers will go along way towards minimizing the risk of many mothers dying or suffering complications.

Let’s talk again about the positive aspects of safe obstetric care. What is the long-term legacy?

If the mothers are sure that they will have safe pregnancy, delivery and child survival; even the issue of family planning will be more widely acceptable.

A healthy mother is a healthy community.



“It’s very complicated to walk away from people. You have to wait for them to walk away first.”

Priscilla is a student in Kenya. She recently underwent fistula repair surgery to correct the damage done by four days of obstructed labour, nine months after she was raped at age 15. 

Priscilla shared her story in The Right To Heal, a documentary examining the personal cost of lack of safe surgical care worldwide. It’s hard to look away from her animated face, and her devastating, statistically ordinary story.

The Right To Heal director and surgeon Jaymie Henry spoke about getting to know Priscilla, and the impact of her story.

What was Priscilla like when you first met her?

Just like in the video! She was so vigorous and joyful and passionate.

Did it change the way you had been thinking about global surgery?

What she suffered was completely inhumane. She was marginalized, cast aside by family, friends, because she didn’t have access to something as simple as surgery for her baby.

It brought that home to me – how we’ve relegated her to someone who can’t even function in society, who didn’t have opportunities.

What happened after the surgery?

It was life-saving; it just completely turned her around. She thought she was dead. Now she’s a vibrant young woman who wants to help other people. She wants to be a nurse, to give back to society.

What next?

Imagine that simple procedure, and it alters the course of her life. It’s profound. For me, there’s a sense of purpose. There are so many Priscillas in the world who can benefit from something as simple as this.