Pioneering the work of a Christian hospital in a Muslim community in the desert is not an easy task. But it's exactly what a handful of Christian medical professionals have done in Chad. Temperatures in the Central African country frequently soar above 40 degrees. Typhoid, malaria and dengue are rife, and most of the population can't expect to live past 50. It's a place desperately in need of good medical provision.
UK surgeons Andrea and Mark Hotchkin have been serving at Guinebor II Hospital near Chad's capital N'djamena since it opened in 2011, sent by BMS World Mission and supported by UK Christians. They've acted as doctors, surgeons, community health project leaders and friends to the mostly Muslim population, and they've seen amazing results. One key area of their work has been developing maternal health services – essential in a country where nearly nine in every 100 babies born die before their first birthday.
"It's really fulfilling to be able to work and make a difference to people's lives," says Dr Mark Hotchkin. "We give thanks to God for the job that he's given us. Working in a place like this is actually why I felt called into medicine in the first place."
In the last five years, as Mark, Andrea, and a team of local and international staff have worked in sometimes 50 degree heat, more than 4,200 babies have been safely delivered to healthy mums at Guinebor II. The recent opening of a brand new maternal health centre means that the hospital expects to deliver 10,000 babies in the next five years.
In the UK, pregnant women typically have between seven and ten antenatal appointments – in Chad, many women won't receive any medical care during pregnancy or even during delivery. "A lot of women in Chad don't come for check-ups," Dr Andrea Hotchkin says. "People don't necessarily see the importance of antenatal care unless they are sick. But that means if there is a problem, it hasn't been identified in advance."
Andrea hopes that by educating people about the value of antenatal care, even when everything looks like it's alright, the lives of many more mothers and their babies can be saved.
And the signs are good. The number of women coming to give birth to their babies at Guinebor II has risen continually, month on month, since the hospital opened. With the new centre, the numbers are rising even faster. In the three months since the maternal health centre opened, the ten midwives at the hospital have delivered 405 babies. In the same period in 2014/15 they delivered 284. That's an extra 121 babies safely delivered!
But despite these rising numbers, Andrea aspires to do more. There is still a large proportion of women who are not accessing the health care available to them.
For every nine women who die through pregnancy or childbirth in the UK, 856 women die in Chad. Traditionally, women in Chad give birth in their homes, which are often mud-built houses with little light. They have no medical care on hand if something goes wrong, and the nearest hospital is often hours – or days – away. Even in cases where the solution is simple, by the time they reach help it might be too late for them, or for their baby.
In order to prevent these needless deaths, the team at Guinebor II is trying to encourage more expecting mothers to access the facilities available to them at the hospital. Dr Andrea Hotchkin is leading a maternal health programme which involves two of the hospital's Chadian midwives going out into the surrounding Muslim communities to explain about the importance of antenatal care and delivering in hospital.
The 4,200 miniature miracles born at Guinebor II Hospital so far might not be alive if it wasn't for the amazing commitment of people like Andrea and Mark Hotchkin. Now that the new maternal health centre is in place and the outreach programme is well underway, thousands more healthy mums will be able to take their babies home with them in the coming years.