Dr Eddie Morris writes to the membership…
As your President, over the past year I have performed many varied roles – some I expected, but this year has been dominated by discussions and decisions that I really did not expect at all.
Being involved in the UK’s National Response to the Coronavirus pandemic, whilst immensely hard work has overall been a privilege and I have been so impressed by the dedication and hard work performed by all our Trainees, Members and Fellows.
In recent weeks, I have been doing what I can to support Fellows and Members around the globe. Ably assisted by Ranee Thakar, we have written to the UK Government as part of our condemnation of the military coup in Myanmar, to ask that the UK do as much as possible to ensure aid continues to reach where it is most needed. We have also, through UK Members, heard harrowing stories of our Myanmar colleagues’ experiences. We will continue to raise these concerns with the UK Government.
The acceleration of the pandemic in India has dominated our thoughts this week and last. It is hard to imagine the scale of the problem, but with a population of nearly 1.4bn, India is nearly twice as populous as Europe. Those who know me understand I have a deep fondness for the country and the people of India. I have visited numerous times, from my time as a medical student, to as recently as January 2020, when I was honoured to be awarded an Honorary Fellowship of the Indian College of Obstetricians of Gynaecologists.
Over the decades, I have seen enormous improvements in the delivery of women’s healthcare In India, but it saddens me, my fellow Officers and all the RCOG staff to see the suffering in the country at the moment. We recently contacted the Chairpersons of the four Zones in India and Bhaskar Pal, chair of the AICC RCOG to express our support to all our friends in India and to offer our willingness to help in any way practicable.
This pandemic has taken away so much from all of us, much more from some than others. I have mentioned the loss of physical contact with overseas family before, but I feel it is important to repeat this. I cannot imagine the sense of loss and pain so many are going through and, with all the open-ended travel restrictions across the globe, it must be particularly difficult to know when you will next see your family.
Many of us want to do our bit at helping with the challenges we recognise overseas, yet we feel powerless to do so. International aid is highly complex, but I was reassured when attending a recent meeting with Chris Whitty, the Chief Medical Officer for England, during which he described the work the UK have commenced to help India during this very difficult phase of the pandemic.
That moment of reassurance with regards to the UK’s approach to international aid was almost immediately countered by the shock announcement that the UK Government has proposed an 85% cut of its contribution to UNFPA. As a College, we are appalled at the timing and severity of the cut. I said publicly that this move is an unconscionable attack on the health and wellbeing of women and girls around the world. I stand by these words as I find the proposal completely at odds with the Government’s commitment to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals. I will continue to work with partner organisations, such as FIGO, to continue the pressure.
Since I last wrote, we have managed to make great progress in the UK with regards to the representation of pregnant women in the vaccination rollout. Thanks to persistent advocacy, backed up by our RCOG COVID-19 Vaccine subgroup, it was announced in April that pregnant women in the UK will be offered the COVID-19 vaccine. Our focus is now shifted to data collection, helping NHSE with operationalising vaccine delivery and assisting with information campaigns and vaccine hesitancy.
I wanted to end on a note of good news. As a College, we have the interests of women at our heart, both in supporting their health, but also supporting women who choose to enter our specialty, wherever they are in the world. All of us at the RCOG were proud and delighted with the recent news that one of our own, Prof Lucy Chappell from Kings College London, achieved appointment to one of the highest offices in UK Government, that of the Chief Scientific Adviser to the Department of Health and Social Care. I have been privileged to work with Lucy on the Vaccine subgroup over the last few months and at other times over the years. I have every confidence that she will not only be excellent in this job but her appointment is fantastic news for women’s health in the UK.