MMM Sister-doctors honoured for VVF work

When Sister-doctor Ann Ward was presented with an Award of Merit by the International Federation of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists at the Opening Ceremony of its 15th World Congress in Copenhagen on 3 August 1997, she called for wider scope for the role of women in obstetrics.

In her Address of Acceptance before the 7,500 obstetricians from over 100 countries gathered in Copenhagen, Sister Ann acknowledged the support of the Irish Government, through Ireland's Embassy in Lagos, for the state-of-the-art centre at Itam, southeast Nigeria, where she has successfully treated more than 3,000 women who had been suffering from vesico-vaginal fistula. This distressing condition carries a great stigma and often leads to ostracism.

At the 'Welcome Home' reception for Sister Ann at Dublin Airport, the Congregational Leader of the Medical Missionaries of Mary confirmed that MMM fully endorses Sister Ann's call for greater recognition of the role of women in healthcare. She reiterated the call of the recent Congregational Chapter that acknowledged that we belong to a society which denies the giftedness and gentle power of women.

Sister Ann was later honoured with the 'Distinguished Graduate Award' from her alma mater, the medical school of University College, Dublin. She was recognized for 'outstanding achievement in the field of medicine' as consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist at St. Luke's Hospital, Anua, in Akwa Ibom State, Nigeria and as medical director of a specialist unit for the treatment of vesico-vaginal fistula at Itam, just a few miles away. This occasion was attended by members of the UCD Medical Faculty, consultants from the teaching hospitals, members of the Medical Graduates Association and alumni from overseas.

Accepting the award, Sister Ann told those gathered at the UCD dinner that any one of them would have done as much as she did, had they found themselves in the same circumstances. "In Africa, women are often treated as second-class citizens and can be abused and disregarded by men."

In Uganda, Sister Maura Lynch was presented with the 'Fellow Award' by the Association of Surgeons of Uganda in recognition of her exemplary service to the development of surgery in Uganda. She was the first woman to receive this prestigious award.

When asked what keeps her going she replied, "I love the work. I am challenged by it. Our latest endeavour at Kitovu Hospital has been setting up the unit for treating women suffering from vesico-vaginal fistula. This VVF Unit is a great energizer for me. Now doctors are flocking here for training from all over Uganda. In fact we have recently had one from Angola and one from Rwanda. It is great to be able to raise awareness in the world about the plight of these women who have been outcasts for years.

"It gives me great life to be able to help them, to see the happiness on their faces as they go home, dancing with joy at the prospect of being reintegrated into society from which they have been banished because of the stigma of their disease."

Later, Sister Maura was presented with the prestigious Honorary Fellowship of the School of Medicine, which is the highest award that the school bestows on distinguished UCD Medical School graduates.

In the Citation, Professor Bill Powderly said:

maura_lynch_ucd_award1"Just three years after she graduated, she was assigned to Chiulo Mission Hospital in Angola in South West Africa where, for the next 17 years, she shared the entire work of that 200-bed hospital with just one other medical Sister. The clinical work ranged across medicine, surgery, obstetrics and paediatrics and had to cater for large cohorts of patients with TB and leprosy, an extraordinarily onerous and exhausting work commitment.

"One of the outstanding characteristics of Maura Lynch is her indefatigable drive, her resilience and her innate good humour, all nurtured from her early days growing up in County Cork. She became intensely involved in nurse training in Angola because of her conviction that the leaders of clinical care in that troubled country would best come from the talented members of the local population.

"She was later assigned to Uganda where she pioneered the Obstetric Fistula Repair Programme that she introduced with the help of colleagues from the UK. She had identified post-obstetric pelvic trauma as a huge medical and social problem in Africa.

"As a result of seeing at first hand the physical, psychological and social isolation endured by African women, she became a champion of dignity and justice for women in the developing world. She saw this as one of her lifegoals and she was responsible for conducting over a thousand vesico-vaginal fistula repairs between 1993 and 2007, an astonishing record that one can confidently say will never be bettered. The transformation of African women's lives achieved as a result of her expertise is incalculable."

In accepting the Award, Sister Maura replied:

"As I accept the Fellowship of Medicine and Medical Science in UCD, I feel privileged to do so and humbled that you have chosen me to be the recipient of such a distinguished award. Tonight you honour not only me but also my family. Besides me you have honoured my Medical Missionaries of Mary Sisters who have formed and encouraged me over the years. Not least you have honoured my beloved patients, staff and colleagues in Uganda and Angola where I have practised over the last 40 years of my professional and missionary life."

Addressing new graduates, she said:

"I congratulate you on your achievement. Today you have received a mandate - to go forth and use your skills and gifts and bring holistic healing to all who are in need. Being a doctor is a very privileged and sacred position in society. Everywhere our fellow human beings look to us for health and healing at their most vulnerable moments. They trust their lives to us and that is a great privilege. We must never betray that trust. You stand on the threshold of an exciting but challenging life. May you be empowered by your calling to serve others and I invite you and encourage you to remember that your skills, your knowledge and your experience are for sharing. You will never regret spending some of your energy in helping to develop and provide and improve health services for the poor and deprived of the developing world. I have welcomed medical students to Kitovu Hospital in Uganda where I have served for the past 20 years and look forward to the day when we can liaise with the Faculty of Medicine and Medical Sciences to welcome postgraduates to reinforce their experiences and at the same time provide expert training for our young doctors and paramedical staff.

"And finally a few words for reflection from Oscar Romero: 'We are workers, not master builders, we are ministers not messiahs, we are prophets of a future not our own.' The greatest use of a life is to spend it on something that will outlast it."