MSF Launches Women’s Health Speakers’ Tour: An Interview with Dr. Hiller, OB/GYN

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Photo by Ashley Hamer/MSF

Photo by Ashley Hamer/MSF

MSF Launches Women’s Health Speakers’ Tour: An Interview with Dr. Hiller, OB/GYN

In an effort to help raise awareness for women’s health, MSF’s Because Tomorrow Needs Her campaign will be hosting a regional speaking tour in cities around the U.S. These talks will be led by locally-based MSF field nurses, midwives and doctors who have experienced first-hand some of the challenges women and girls face in trying to access equitable, high-quality and affordable medical care.

In preparation for the launch of the regional speakers’ tour in Johnson City, TN and Asheville, NC, we spoke with MSF-OB/GYN Dr. Durell Hiller –a Dandridge, Tennessee local who has worked with MSF to improve women’s health in Nigeria and South Sudan. Dr. Hiller is former active duty military with the U.S. Army Medical Corps, providing medical assistance during Operation Desert Storm, and has over three decades of private practice experience.

Dr. Hiller, what have been your assignments with MSF?

My first mission was in Goronyo in northwestern Nigeria and that consisted of training midwives on care, treatment, and what to do when there are complications in pregnancy. It also involved working with the Nigerian Ministry of Health to try to establish better access for pregnant women to receive care. My second mission was in Aweil, South Sudan, and that involved a lot of surgical treatment for complications in pregnancy.

How did your experience with the U.S. Army Medical Corps and in private practice prepare you for your missions in the field?

Well my background and experience both in the military and in practice provided me with the knowledge and skills needed to perform these duties. In the military you have only the equipment that they’re giving to you, not like in private practice where you can ask for a lot of things. With MSF we had just what was available and you get used to using that to help the people you’re taking care of.

As you know, the theme that’s at the crux of this project is that of women facing barriers to high quality and equal access to emergency medical care. What types of barriers did you see women experiencing in some of your missions?

Well there are many major barriers that these women face, just some of them being the inadequate referral system, inadequate transportation to facilities, lack of ambulance services, lack of skilled medical professionals, lack of education and training. Women really need medical care nearer to their villages so that they don’t have to travel great distances.

Is there one particular story or experience from an MSF patient that really sticks out in your mind?

Well there are many. One particular story that really comes to mind is a patient who came to us and required a C-section. She had been in labor for several days and the baby was in an abnormal position. Three of her previous children had died in childbirth. [After a successful delivery] …she came back at her fourth week after surgery for a follow up. She was doing well, the baby was doing well, and she told us that she was so happy to finally have a baby that lived.

Do you find situations like this occur frequently in your missions?

Yes, the people that we take care of in both of the missions I’ve been on are so appreciative of the care we give them. They are so happy to have healthy babies – it happens frequently.

What were some of the challenges that you experienced in your missions, aside from being without all the medical supplies you were used to having? How were you able to adjust?

In addition to the medical challenges, just working in another country, you have different cultures, customs, languages, food, housing. Working with our fellow ex-pats was very rewarding. We all get together and attack these challenges and try to work with them to the best of our advantage.

Plus, working with the national staff, who are very helpful, especially with the languages, is great. They love the training, they love the teaching – the midwives were just outstanding. They were very receptive to our recommendations on how to do things and in the different ways that we wanted them to treat the patients. It was all very positive.

What were some of the other rewards that you experience working in the field?

Working with the patients – they were great. They were so grateful for our assistance and they were so nice. That was just a great reward in itself.

You mentioned before that you had worked with some of that Ministry of Health staff. Why does MSF do this?

All MSF projects in some way work with the Ministry of Health in that country. The projects where I worked are also trying to teach the national staff to take over some of the responsibilities. So working with the Ministry of Health is helpful in trying to do that, to give a life-long or prolonged access to care for these women – even if MSF is no longer there.

What do you hope people who come to your talk or come to any of the regional talks for the Because Tomorrow Needs Her project will take away?

I hope that they will be able to see the risks that women face in developing countries and that MSF has shown that there are simple steps that can help these women. The book, Because Tomorrow Needs Her, shows the experiences of not only the staff, the OB/GYNs, nurses and midwives, but also the patients and how access to care affects their lives and helps them have healthier pregnancies and healthier babies. I hope people will be tuned in to helping through whatever means they can.

My work with MSF has been very personally rewarding, just working with patients, ex-pat staff, national staff, the support staff in New York and around the world. I hope that through these talks, people who are not directly exposed to what women are facing in developing countries will see how it affects their lives.

Register below for Dr. Durell Hiller’s discussion on some of the challenges that keep women in developing countries from getting the medical care they urgently need.

August 27, 2015 – 6:00pm –Johnson City, TN
September 15, 2015 – 6:00pm – Asheville, NC

Check out MSF’s event listing to see when a local MSF field worker will be speaking near you!
  #tomorrowneedsher #womenshealth #Nigeria #SouthSudan

Because Tomorrow Needs Her focuses on some of the impediments to women’s health, exposing injustices that disproportionately affect women and girls around the world.