Copacabana resident, Dr Andrew Browning, has received an Order of Australia Medal, Member of the Order Award (AM Award), in the 2019 Australia Day Honours.
Dr Browning received his honour for services to international health through the provision of obstetric care to women in Africa.
Dr Browning is the Founder of The Barbara May Foundation, which is the masthead charity from which he founds and funds maternity and fistula facilities across the globe.
Dr Browning received his AM Award specifically for the work of Foundation supported charity, Maternity Africa, a Tanzanian based charity that builds hospitals to provide safe and free fistula and maternity care.
To date, Maternity Africa has safely delivered babies for over 40,000 women and operated on 6,500 obstetric fistula patients at no cost to the patient.
Through Foundation, Dr Browning has also established and worked in numerous other healthcare facilities and organisations across the African continent, including: the Hamlin Fistula Outreach Centre in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia, which he founded and worked at as a fistula surgeon from 2005 to 2010; and, Vision Maternity Care, Ethiopia, which has provided free medical assistance to more than 2,000 pregnant women every year since its inception in 2011.
He is also the Founding Director of the Selian Fistula Project.
Dr Browning is also a respected member of the international gynaecological health profession and has worked on many boards and committees during his 24 year career.
He is a member of: the Committee for Fistula and Genital Trauma; International Federation of Gynaecology and Obstetrics; an Honorary Fellow, Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists; Fellow, Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists; Co-chair of FIGO Fistula Committee (International Federation of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists); and, also co-chairs FIGO’s Expert Advisory Group.
Raised in a Christian household, Dr Browning, grew up on the stories of missionary doctors and decided early on that he wanted to follow in their footsteps.
After completing medical school, Dr Browning spent the junior years of his career at Gosford Hospital, before achieving his credentials in obstetrics and gynaecology.
Once certified, he immediately made the move to Africa in 2001, where he spent the next 17 years working as a full time volunteer doctor.
Keenly aware of the massive gap between Australia and Africa’s healthcare system and the destructive effects of fistulas, Dr Browning said the decision to dedicate his life to bettering maternity and fistula treatment in Africa was an easy one.
“The need for dedicated maternity hospitals and fistula treatment across Africa is indescribable,” Dr Browning said.
“Put simply, a fistula is a hole in the body that connects two organs that would not normally connect,” Dr Browning explained.
Women are particularly susceptible to developing a fistula during labour, especially if there are complications during birth.
According to Dr Browning, government hospitals in Africa simply don’t have the capacity to deal with prolonged births known as obstructed labour.
“Obstructed labour affects around 5 per cent of women.
“It occurs when a blockage prevents the baby from exiting the pelvis and normally results in the death of the child.
“As caesarean surgery is beyond a lot of these hospitals, the mothers often have to endure labour, which can go on for days, until they deliver a still born.
“By that time, they’ve suffered extensive internal damage to their vagina, pelvis and rectum, often resulting in severe fistulas,” Dr Browning said.
“Fistulas cause leakage, so on top of suffering the loss of a child and having internal damage, these women now have to deal with uncontrollable leaking.
“Most of our fistula patients are depressed.
“Many have been abandoned by their families, and with no way to access the surgery they need, they often attempt suicide,” Dr Browning said.
“That’s why the work of The Barbara May Foundation is so important.
“By providing free maternity care, we give women the chance to safely deliver their babies and also minimise the chances of a fistula developing.
“By doing this we’re filling a necessary gap in healthcare,” Dr Browning said.
“Over the years, I’d say we’ve helped deliver over 100,000 babies and provided reconstructive fistula surgery for 6,000 people,” Dr Browning said.
Through his work, Dr Browning, has also been accredited with improving the surgical techniques associated with gynaecological reconstruction, particularly around vaginal and urethra reconstruction surgery, and the practice of reconstructing ligaments in the pelvis.
Dr Browning moved back to Australia in 2018 so his children could attend high school.
“My wife built a primary school in Tanzania, which my children attended, but we moved back to the Coast so they could continue their education,” Dr Browning said.
Dr Browning now splits his time between fundraising for the Foundation whilst in Australia and teaching and practicing at Foundation hospitals during regular trips to Africa.
“Right now we’re focusing on fundraising, so we can continue consolidating our fistula treatment and prevention work as well as provide the funding for more midwife training,” he said.
According to Dr Browning, Africa will need around 2,000 more maternity hospitals that operate at The Barbara May Foundation’s standard to meet the population’s demand.
“So far we’ve built three, just 1997 to go,” Dr Browning joked.
Dr Browning hopes that receiving this AM Award will help promote the work of The Barbara May Foundation to Australians.
“Fifty per cent of Africa’s healthcare system is made up of missionary workers and volunteers.
“I have worked with many unsung heroes who have dedicated their entire lives as volunteers working to better healthcare in Africa.
“The need is so great.
“We still have over 2,000 people waiting to receive fistula treatment and anything you can give would be of a huge help,” Dr Browning said.
“$200 ensures a woman can give birth safely with no cost to herself in a Barbara May Foundation Hospital and includes all the associated costs from clothing to meals.
“$400 ensures a patient can get life changing fistula surgery at no cost.
“This is on par with or even better than our own healthcare system and I urge anyone who can to consider donating to the Foundation,” Dr Browning said.
The Foundation also has links to facilities in Somalia, Nepal, Conga and Uganda, and, Dr Browning, said any able bodied volunteers would be welcomed.
Document, Jan 21
Kaye Browning, Australian Honours and Awards Secretariat
Interview, Jan 29
Dr Andrew Browning, The Barbara May Foundation
Dilon Luke, Journalist