My field trip to Cameroon with the Pampers and UNICEF team began with a 3am alarm call and a short taxi ride to Heathrow Terminal 4 where, feeling excited and a little apprehensive, I met the rest of the group. I would be spending my week in Africa with Jemma Walton, features editor for Mother and Baby magazine, Nicola Westoby, a midwife from the Royal College of Midwives, Alex Lee and Liz Jones from UNICEF UK, Catherine McGough, Pampers PR manager and Bronwyn Fieldgate from Fleishman-Hillard. We will be joining the UNICEF Cameroon team on our arrival.
Despite the early hour, I was wide awake having decided not to sleep and risk sleeping through my alarm. Looking around the group at the check-in desk, it quickly became obvious that my idea of packing light differed slightly from everyone else’s as I seemed to be carrying a great deal more luggage. It is likely that I am one of the few people who have travelled to rural Africa with mini hair-straighteners and a travel hairdryer.
As there was the possibility of my luggage getting lost en route, I had also decided to pack all my ‘essentials’ in my hand luggage, together with every single anti-mosquito repellent I could get my hands on.
I was a little over-excited to see my visa from the Cameroon Embassy stamped in my passport and realise that the trip was really happening. I had never travelled to a developing country before or done anything as significant as this and it was hard to believe that despite the vaccinations and the weeks of preparation, I really was travelling to Africa.
The purpose of my field trip to Cameroon was; to see in action the success of the Pampers and UNICEF partnership, which aims to help eliminate maternal and newborn tetanus (MNT), to experience firsthand the conditions faced by women and babies in developing countries, gain an understanding of why tetanus vaccines are essential and see the work that still needs to be done to make sure every woman and her baby is protected against the disease. I had come armed with the facts:
- To date, Pampers have donated funding for 300 million vaccines, which is helping to protect 100 million women and babies from maternal and newborn tetanus
- Since 2006, Pampers have helped protect mums and their babies in 21 countries across two continents
- More than 80 years after the tetanus vaccine first became available, MNT still threatens the lives of 170 million women and their newborn babies in 40 countries around the world
- In 2010, it has been calculated that approximately 59,000 newborns die annually from newborn tetanus, and thousands of women from maternal tetanus *
- Every nine minutes, one baby dies needlessly from MNT *
I had no idea what to expect. I had never witnessed hardship and abject poverty to the extremes I was about to encounter. It felt important to embrace every single aspect of the trip, to document my thoughts and experiences and return in a position to be able to help. Spending my last couple of hours on British soil, the weight of responsibility suddenly felt huge and I wondered if I was up to the task in hand.
At that point our journey from Heathrow to Cameroon via Paris-Charles de Gaulle seemed straightforward. None of us could have envisaged as we sat in the departure lounge waiting to board our plane that it would be anything but.
* Based on CHERG/ WHO estimates for annual MNT deaths, 2008 as published in Lancet on 12.05.10