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MUMs’ Last Big Challenge

– in the Scottish Parliament on 18th November 2014.

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Photo of John Scott John Scott Conservative

The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S4M-11093, in the name of Alex Fergusson, on MUMs’ last big challenge. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes the ongoing work of the charity, Malawi Underprivileged Mothers (MUMs), which was founded in 2005 by Linda McDonald, who worked in Edinburgh, to raise funds for improvements at Bwaila Hospital in Lilongwe; further notes the support that MUMs has given to Charity Salima and the Achikondi clinic, which is a maternity clinic established by Charity Salima using her own resources, which now helps to deliver between 40 and 50 babies per month, provide ante- and post-natal care to mothers and babies, runs an under-fives clinic and provides HIV testing and family planning advice; is concerned that the clinic’s privacy has been compromised, but notes that Charity Salima has begun to build a new purpose-built clinic with a 17-bed capacity; recognises that MUMs has launched a challenge to raise the £15,000 required to complete the clinic by the end of December 2014 and commends the charity pack that it has made available to individuals and organisations challenging them to raise £100 toward the target, and wishes Linda McDonald and everyone involved with MUMs every success in achieving their aim.

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson Conservative

I am absolutely delighted to have been able to bring the motion to debate in the chamber, not simply because it allows us to focus on what I think is a very worthwhile topic, but because it allows me to highlight the work of two of life’s true angels—one a Scot, one a Malawian—who seem to have been put on this earth with the predetermined aim of making it an infinitely better place to inhabit.

The first of those people will be acutely embarrassed because, if my eyesight is right, I am pleased to say that Linda McDonald has been able to join us in the public gallery, along with some of the key volunteers who have made her charitable trust, which is best known to all of us as MUMs, work so effectively since it was founded in 2005.

Linda started the charity after seeing photographs of Bottom hospital in Lilongwe, the capital of Malawi. The photographs clearly showed the filthy, unhygienic conditions in which pregnant mothers were supposed to be able to deliver their babies. It is worth noting that in the UK in 2013 one in every 4,600 women could be expected to die in pregnancy or childbirth; in Malawi in that same year, one in every 36 could expect to die simply because they had become pregnant.

It was no wonder that Linda, who is a practising midwife, was so shocked by the photographs that she was shown. Every single one of us would have been shocked, but I suspect that very few of us would have thought “Well, that’s enough. I’m going to go and do something about this and try to make a difference.”

So, MUMs was born; the first in a series of recipe books was produced; Jack McConnell, a former First Minister, brought MUMs to the Parliament’s attention; and MUMs became instrumental in raising the £100,000 that saw a new purpose-built maternity unit being built at Bwaila hospital. Once that unit began to operate, the book that previously recorded the daily deaths of babies and the weekly deaths of mothers was barely required any longer. I had the enormous privilege of visiting Bwaila hospital in 2011, and I could only marvel at the charts of infant and mother mortality that had been meticulously kept since the new unit had been built and which proved so vividly that the £100,000 investment had produced a return that could never be calculated in financial terms. It has produced a safe environment in which women can give birth.

MUMs could not and did not stop there. It had well and truly taken root, and over the years it has raised huge amounts of money that has been thoughtfully and carefully targeted at improving the lives of mothers, babies and families in Malawi: feeding stations for under-fives have been set up; nursery teachers funded; drinking water sourced; and basic toilet facilities researched. All that and much more has been achieved by MUMs.

Somewhere along the way, a very fortuitous contact was made with a lady called Charity Salima, the second of the angels I referred to earlier. I visited Charity at her Achikondi clinic in 2011 and again in 2013. I am not sure that I could ever visit Malawi again without visiting Achikondi, which literally means “a caring home”. Both the clinic and the story that led to its establishment are truly inspirational.

Charity Salima was a research nurse working for the Malawi Government. However, she became so appalled by the type of death rates that I referred to earlier and her increased knowledge and experience of the conditions that pregnant women in Lilongwe had to survive that she, like Linda, came to the conclusion that enough was enough.

In 2008, using her own meagre resources and with the backing of the National Organisation of Nurses and Midwives of Malawi, Charity rented a property in District 23 and established her maternity clinic, although I suspect that we would probably not recognise it as such if we happened upon it. That clinic and Charity Salima are now well on their way to delivering their 6,000th baby without having to record a single death of either mother or child in the clinic’s six-year history.

Charity, being Charity, did not stop at that. She also provides antenatal and postnatal care to mothers and babies, runs an under-fives clinic and feeding station, provides HIV testing and runs a family planning advice service—all achieved without any Government funding whatsoever. I can say with total sincerity that Charity Salima is one of the most remarkable human beings that I have ever come across.

Since 2009, MUMs has supported Charity through a monthly donation and, in addition, has funded a badly needed ambulance to increase the catchment area from which pregnant mothers can access that extraordinary place. However, a new challenge has emerged, and it is the one that I want to highlight through this debate.

The owner of the Achikondi clinic has increased the rent. On its own that might have been bearable but, in a particularly unhelpful move, he has begun to build a house just 7 feet from the front wall of the clinic itself, compromising access to the clinic and, more importantly, the privacy that it currently enjoys.

The clinic simply could not continue to operate under those circumstances. In typical Charity style, she has bought a plot of land and, with assistance from the Norwegian Nurses Association, has begun to build a new, purpose-built, 17-bed clinic. However, she has run out of money, which is where the title of my motion—“MUMs’ Last Big Challenge”—comes in.

MUMs is looking to amalgamate with another charity for the most understandable of reasons. Its success has been such that it has become a more than full-time task to administer and the trust has decided that amalgamation would best secure its aims into the future.

However, it has set itself the one final challenge of raising the £15,000 that Charity needs by Christmas. It has produced a donate to charity pack—I have one here and I can get more—that gives all the necessary advice to individuals and organisations to raise just £100 each towards the total. Everyone who does so will be immortalised on a plaque on the wall of the new clinic when it opens.

Through tonight’s debate, I hope that we MSPs can help to do a little to raise awareness of the initiative in our constituencies and regions—I have some of the donate to charity packs with me and, as I said, I can get more. If members are wondering how to dispose of the charitable fee that we are offered for participating in some of the surveys that seem to proliferate at this time of year, I can think of no better cause to donate to.

That aside, my motion gives Parliament the opportunity to say thank you to Linda McDonald and MUMs for the truly remarkable work that they have undertaken over the years. That work was not done for glory, gain or recognition, but for the simple satisfaction of doing what is right and, in doing so, improving beyond all recognition the lives of so many others who are so much less fortunate than we are. I am privileged to have spoken to the motion in my name.

Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour

It is always a pleasure to be able to speak in a debate about Malawi, but this particular one says everything about the relationship between Scotland and Malawi.

As many members know and as Alex Fergusson so eloquently said in his motion—he deserves congratulations for lodging the motion and securing the debate—the child and maternal mortality situation in Malawi has been and still is challenging. When I first visited in 2006, it was shocking to hear that one baby was dying every day and one mother every week, and it was a shocking situation to witness. In some of the hospitals in Malawi, where MUMs and other organisations have been so active, there is now no need to record that kind of information on that kind of scale. Instead the progress of the babies and their mums is being recorded. To know that is quite remarkable. No word could really do it justice; “remarkable” is as good a word as any.

The efforts of MUMs have been particularly inspirational in my view. At the beginning, it sounded like a very small idea to have a book of recipes—some of which I still use to this day; it was a useful book in my home. However, the fact that a book of recipes would be used to raise money for such an important aspect of Malawian life is an interesting concept. It demonstrates that it is the personal contacts and relationships between Scotland and Malawi that help to make such a difference.

As we know, MUMs has contributed large sums to helping mums with delivering their babies and with their postnatal care, and it has given equally large sums of money to help prevent mother-to-child HIV transmission and to help health workers who have become infected through their work. MUMs funds feeding stations and boosts the chances of children who are born in Malawi living full, long and fulfilling lives.

As we have heard, the latest project that MUMs is supporting is the work of Charity Salima—never was someone better named. Her work has been highlighted in a number of ways and it really is significant: the results achieved in her clinic are fantastic. I have not had the opportunity to visit the clinic, but I have read a number of articles and comments about it. It clearly is making a huge difference for the mums in that part of Malawi.

A few years ago, Tom Pow wrote the book “When the Rains Come”, which was frankly a delight to read. It was a lovely book: it was happy, uplifting and beautifully illustrated. It told the story of an ordinary family in Malawi, although it could have been a family anywhere in Africa, going about their lives and living them to the full. As in any family there was an indomitable grandmother—it was good to see the similarities that came to play there. The book raised significant sums of money and I think that it is still available. It can help the fundraising that Alex Fergusson mentioned.

As I said, the relationship between Scotland and Malawi has been significant. A hallmark of this Parliament has been that we recognised that there was work to be done and we set about doing it. Our and the Government’s efforts have been worth while and important, but over the years the spotlight that this Parliament and the Government has shone on the work and need in Malawi has been most important. Nowhere is that more obvious than in the work that MUMs and Linda McDonald have done since 2005. I very much hope that they raise enough money by Christmas to fulfil their ambition, and I am sure that with the Parliament’s support they will do.

Photo of Maureen Watt Maureen Watt Scottish National Party

I draw the Parliament’s attention to my entry in the register of members’ interests: I am the convener of the Parliament’s cross-party group on Malawi.

I, too, congratulate Alex Fergusson on securing this debate to highlight the work of the charity Malawi Underprivileged Mothers, or MUMs, as we have all come to know it. I commend him for his continuing interest in and enthusiasm for all things related to Malawi.

On our cross-party group visit to Malawi in January 2011, we had to do, among other things, a kind of recce to see which projects Annie Lennox should visit the following month, when Alex Fergusson, in his role as Presiding Officer, would accompany her. Like many others, he was captivated by the warm heart of Africa and the projects that he visited. His commitment continues, hence the motion in his name today. Obviously, he was captivated by MUMs’ work in Malawi.

The latest effort of MUMs and Linda McDonald, the charity’s founder, to build a 17-bed clinic is truly remarkable and commendable. I know how difficult it is to raise money for Malawi, but the fundraising capacity of MUMs is legendary in the Parliament, as others have mentioned. In 2009, Mary Scanlon held a debate in which Jack McConnell spoke. He distributed the cookbook in the Parliament and badgered us all to contribute to it and buy it. In 2008, Mike Pringle said in a debate:

“I have found that one cannot say no to Linda.”—[Official Report, 20 February 2008; c 6100.]

I am sure that he meant only in relation to stumping up money and helping the project, rather than anything else.

Malawi is making progress towards meeting the millennium development goals, particularly in relation to reducing poverty, accessing improved sources of water and improving the lives of slum dwellers. However, in relation to infant mortality and maternal health, there is still much to do. Many people, such as Linda McDonald in Scotland, have taken up the challenge.

Patricia Ferguson mentioned some of the problems that people face as they try to reduce child mortality and maternal death. Among those problems are providing a safe environment for birth to take place and ensuring that the mother’s health during pregnancy is the best that it can be. It is particularly important to ensure that the proportion of births attended by skilled health personnel is as high as possible. While the situation is improving a great deal in urban areas, there is still a bit more to be done in rural areas.

I take this opportunity to mention a project run by the University of Aberdeen’s institute of applied health sciences, whose objective is to encourage the integration of rural midwives in the local health system in order to maintain their skills and increase their job satisfaction in local communities.

Although there is still much work to be done, we must commend and support the many people, such as Linda McDonald and those involved in MUMs, who continue to work on the issue in Malawi. It is much appreciated. There is some disconnect in the work of the charities, and the Scotland Malawi Partnership is trying to ensure that they are in tune with the Government of Malawi. Perhaps the minister could take that up, and I look forward to hearing his speech.

Photo of Liam McArthur Liam McArthur Liberal Democrat

I join my colleagues in congratulating Alex Fergusson on securing the debate. As others have testified, his commitment to and passionate support for the links between the Parliament and Scotland and Malawi is a matter of record, to the point where he has been prepared to be Annie Lennox’s bag carrier, which is above and beyond the call of duty for most Presiding Officers.

Like Patricia Ferguson, Maureen Watt and Alex Fergusson, I have felt very fortunate in being able, in my role as an MSP, to develop my own links with Malawi, often born of the links that community groups, schools and others in my constituency have fostered over the years. A lot of excellent work has been developed, whether in education, health or economic development. MUMs is a project that I was less familiar with. In that sense, today’s debate serves a further useful purpose.

Raising awareness is the easy bit. As Alex Fergusson made clear in his opening remarks, the really remarkable work of what he called the “true angels” is the hard stuff. Much has been said about Linda McDonald. If someone can get Mike Pringle to do what they ask, where on earth were they when we needed a Liberal Democrat chief whip in previous parliamentary sessions? The same applies to Charity Salima—she and Linda McDonald do the sort of work that humbles all of us. Alex Fergusson was right to pay eloquent tribute to that.

I was on the same visit to Malawi as Maureen Watt back in 2011. One of the more striking aspects of that trip was our visit to a settlement on the outskirts of Lilongwe to visit a mother who had been diagnosed as HIV positive during a previous visit by a Scottish Parliament delegation. Truth be told, no one really expected her still to be alive in 2011. It was therefore remarkable to see the recovery that she had made. That was evidence that things were coming together and moving in the right direction: there had been investment in education, and the fertiliser programme was ensuring that markets at least had the food that could support the antiretroviral programme.

It is too easy to succumb to a counsel of despair, which is why, as Patricia Ferguson suggested, we should not lose sight of the fact that some projects are delivering real benefits here and now. Although there is still an awful lot to do, that should give us confidence that the interventions that we are making work.

Despite that progress, the figures are bleak. Life expectancy in Malawi is still around 37 years; the maternal death rate is still eight in every 1,000; one child in 10 dies before the age of 10; and every week two nurses die from HIV, which parallels the issue with the attrition rate among teachers, where the number of teachers passing away due to HIV/AIDS is undermining efforts to build capacity in the school sector. The figures are a source of real concern and underscore the need for projects such as MUMs and the work that is done by Linda McDonald, Charity Salima and their colleagues.

The objectives of that work are that Malawi’s children should be well nourished and have educational opportunities; that all mothers should have safe and caring maternity provision; that nurses who have AIDS, who are at risk of contracting AIDS or who are simply concerned about the risk of contracting AIDS should be supported; and that we should ensure that we work closely with local communities to give them the confidence and the capacity to help themselves. We should support all those objectives, and we should raise awareness of the work and encourage others to support it.

Last year, the McArthur family agreed to forego a few presents at Christmas in order to adopt a snow leopard. This year, I can think of no better cause than supporting Linda McDonald and MUMs towards their target of £15,000 to complete their clinic before the end of the year.

Immortalising things on plaques seems to be very much in the zeitgeist of the week but, in conclusion, I congratulate Alex Fergusson on securing the debate and I promise to see him afterwards to settle my debt. I offer my thanks to the “true angels” who are doing so much good work in the warm heart of Africa.

Photo of Humza Yousaf Humza Yousaf Scottish National Party

I thank Alex Fergusson for lodging his important motion, and I thank Linda McDonald, Charity Salima and the team at the Achikondi clinic for all the hard and good work that they do.

There is nothing like an impending Government reshuffle to focus the mind on one’s portfolio. I can say without any fear or favour that my portfolio is by far the best in the Government, which might be the best-kept secret in Government. The reason is that I get to see examples of the best change in the world and to talk to the people who are bringing it about. MUMs is a good example of that. The charity gives a gift that we cannot put a price on: the gift of life. The gift of a healthy child cannot be quantified.

When we speak about Malawi, we often talk about the historical context. Of course, it is important because it sets the foundation of the relationship that we have in the present and will take forward into the future.

That historical context centres around that amazing Scot, Dr David Livingstone. At heart, he was an explorer, but he was also a medic and a missionary—although he was not particularly good at that, as he converted only one person who, apparently, became a lapsed Christian. He talked about the three Cs: Christianity, commerce and civilisation. I always think that not enough attention is paid to the “civilisation” part. If we read some of his manuscripts, we can see that when he talked about civilisation he was talking about the slave trade, but also about the idea that humanity was all one, and that we should come together to face global challenges that affect us all, regardless of our race, colour, religion or where we come from. I am delighted that his legacy is being carried on to this day by people like Linda McDonald and people in Malawi, and also by our children. I still keep a close eye on the good work of people such as Martha Payne, the young girl who is helping Mary’s Meals to feed young schoolchildren in Malawi.

The point about that historical context is that it helps to inform our present relationship. Last week, I was in Geneva for a couple of days, talking about our international development work. The United Nations was extremely interested in what Scotland is doing and all the officials I spoke to said that although the size of a country’s contribution is important, what is equally important is the impact that Scotland is having and the leadership that we are showing. We have a relatively modest international development programme that is worth £9 million a year, of which £3 million is ring fenced for Malawi. However, from that small pot, we support more than 30 projects in the country.

That is unique not because of the top-down relationship, as important as that Government-to-Government relationship is, but because of the bottom-up relationship. The entire civic society of Scotland is involved, from the very north of our country and Mr McArthur’s—I was about to call him General MacArthurconstituency of Orkney, where I have met some of those who are involved in the relationship, right down to Selkirk in the Borders, where I have also met people who are involved in the relationship with Malawi.

That relationship covers the country not only geographically but demographically: I have met teachers, students, nurses, professionals and business people who are involved in it. In fact, a study from the Scotland Malawi Partnership showed that 84,000 Scots are involved in the relationship with Malawi. In a country of 5 million people, 84,000 are involved in helping to improve the lives of their fellow men, women and children in Malawi. According to the same survey, 50 per cent of people know somebody who is involved in that relationship and 97 per cent of people think favourably of it. In this time of financial restraint, economic austerity and food banks—difficult times for people—they are still in favour of committing our resources, energy and efforts to improving the lives of people who are far worse off than we are.

As have members who have spoken already in eloquent speeches, I have been to Malawi. It is difficult to understand the realities of abject poverty until we witness it for ourselves and speak to a mother who has had to bury her child because of malnutrition, or to a child who has been orphaned because his parents have such a low life expectancy, as Liam McArthur said. It is difficult to understand that, in a world of plenty, we have to hear the figures that Patricia Ferguson cited about the mothers who still die simply because they have become pregnant.

It is a great disgrace and shame to us all that, in the 21st century, women have to walk up to 30km in labour and then, through the pain of a fistula, suffer a delayed labour that not only causes their child to be stillborn but causes them internal damage—tissue damage that affects their rectum and bladder and leaves them incontinent. There is no way that they can have another child if that fistula is not repaired. Unfortunately, some of them are divorced because they will not be able to produce children. They are then outcast from entire communities. Imagine that in the 21st century.

Maternal health is incredibly important to the Scottish Government. We fund eight projects in Malawi, including one in Bwaila hospital in Lilongwe. I visited the fistula care centre in Bwaila hospital, where Linda McDonald, Charity Salima and the team work. Working with Ann Gloag’s Freedom from Fistula Foundation, I got to see how women who suffered from fistulas and various pregnancy complications got their lives back by being given a solar battery that they could charge other people from their village or town to use, which allowed them make an income for themselves and, therefore, to go from being outcasts to being business leaders in their communities.

I note and commend the range of good work that is done by MUMs, from antenatal and postnatal care, through HIV testing, to family planning advice, which is simple but also incredibly important. I hope that individuals and organisations will dig deep to support them.

We have heard much about Linda McDonald’s personal drive. If I can catch up with her after the debate, I look forward to saying a quick hello. From everything that I hear, she sounds like a phenomenal fundraiser. She should be quite careful, because a political party might snap her up if she continues with such a record.

Charity Salima is rightly described as a miracle nurse. Her clinic has delivered thousands of babies and there has not been one death since 2008.

I agree entirely with Alex Fergusson’s description of those two women as angels. Every member of the Parliament should determine what they can do to help MUMs. I will be happy to do that. Through the work that they do with MUMs, those two women and their team helped to re-establish my faith in humanity in a difficult world.

The greatness of a nation is not measured by its economic wealth or its military might, but by how it treats the most vulnerable in its society. In the globalised world in which we live, we can demonstrate our greatness through the work that is done by MUMs and the many other charities and good people that help to improve the lives of the least fortunate and the most vulnerable on our planet.

Meeting closed at 17:35.