As part of the ongoing series #PacificPossible, the World Bank has been getting to know some of the region’s young and emerging leaders for their take on what’s possible for the future of their countries and the major challenges ahead.
For International Women’s Day 2018 – the World Bank is sharing stories with us from the inspiring young women they have met across the Pacific - highlighting that one of the Pacific’s best resources is its people and talented young women.
Yet the challenge facing Leeanne is immense. The Solomon Islands has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the Pacific. And between 2011 and 2014, Leeanne was the sole local obstetrician and gynecologist in the country; she was responsible for more than 5000 births each year. Thankfully, since 2015, Leeanne’s team has grown to four, who are now overseeing around 6000 births each year; that’s roughly 13 births per day.
How do you describe your job?
The responsibility of an obstetrician is to safely take a mother through the pregnancy, through the birth, and post-partum.
To me, it’s satisfying. My role is fulfilled when I have mothers coming through my unit – including in the other hospitals throughout the country – delivering healthy babies, and those mothers then return safely to their families. Our role is to prevent maternal deaths.
Why did you choose your career path?
I became interested in medicine firstly because I saw the value in helping people in general, helping them to get better. And the more I saw the joy that child birth brings to mothers and fathers and families when there is a good outcome, the more interested I became in this field (obstetrics).
In gynecology, women come in with all sorts of problems, and they suffer because of that. Once we’ve treated those problems, there’s a great deal of happiness and relief.
And in obstetrics, our focus is on avoiding death – both of the mother and the child. But when it does happen it’s a really sad thing. So that is why to become an obstetrician is really hard work, because it’s so important. Just to get there initially to be able to call yourself an obstetrician is a long journey. Most of the time is spent in the hospital learning and understanding; and then once you have the knowledge, the skills, you can prevent deaths and you can provide treatment. Those things are satisfying.
What are the challenges like?
Solomon Islands has one of the highest rates of maternal mortality in the Pacific. A key challenge here relates to access. This is a very dispersed country and not everyone has access to health services. Many women have a lot of difficulty getting to clinics and health centers, and sometimes people can take a long time to seek help, often because of the lack of transport, and sometimes because of the cost of the journey.
And we don’t have many specialist doctors in provincial areas; most are general practitioners. Specialists who deal with obstetrics and gynecology – there are only a few of us, and we are all based in Honiara.
And the other key challenge relates to family planning. Men are almost always the head of households here. So if we get the men on board and convince them to support their women with family planning, that will go a long way.
In my experience, a lot of women want family planning but they aren’t in a position to decide on their own. The male has to say ‘yes’ before the female can have access and support for family planning. That is one of the big challenges we have here in Solomon Islands.
What does the future look like for Solomon Islands? What’s possible?
I’m very hopeful for the future. I have come through the hardest part – mostly alone – since 2011. Now we have more obstetricians, we have more training. We will have more specialists in obstetrics and gynecology coming in and we will get some of them out to the provinces.
I’m hopeful that we will improve maternal health in Solomon Islands. Preventing maternal deaths and helping women with gynecology problems is our goal.
What’s necessary for Solomon Islands to make this future a reality?
I would like the Ministry of Health and the government to support more training of specialists in obstetrics and gynecology, to see it as an area of need.
That is the only way forward to reduce maternal mortality and improve the health of women.
What gives you hope for the future?
I look at my own progress since 2011. I was basically alone until recently. And yet now we have progressed to a stage where there are four of us. We are able to provide services to the National Referral Hospital, and now to the provinces.
So I’ve seen that in Solomon Islands. If we can strengthen those specialised services in the provinces; with more people out there – we can do a lot more to improve the health of the people.
Finish this sentence: ‘In the Pacific, it’s possible…’
...to improve maternal health and have good outcomes for families in the Pacific.
*The World Bank has been supporting Solomon Islands with the expansion rural development projects, community governance, improving the delivery and sustainability of energy and increasing employment in the country.