Nestled in the heart of the Ethiopian Highlands, the Simien Mountains National Park contains some of Africa’s most dramatic scenery. Over millennia the land has been eroded away leaving a jagged maze of cliffs and gorges home to a quarter of a million people.
Daily life in these mountains has remained essentially unchanged since the area was first inhabited around two thousand years ago. Living in houses built of mud and thatch and cooking over a central wood fire entire families eat, sleep and die alongside one another and their animals.
Steep, rocky land is cultivated in a manner not seen in Europe since the Bronze Age; wooden ploughs are drawn by livestock, crops hand cut with knives and carried home for storage. It’s not surprising, therefore, that life expectancy in the mountains is around fifty years with maternal mortality among the highest in the world.
Simien Mountain Mobile Medical Service (SMMMS) was founded five years ago by Wendy and Brian Lovatt after a trekking holiday to the National Park. They were shocked by the poor health and lack of medical care available to to those living in the mountains where clinics are often many days walk away. For a woman in obstructed labour, for example, such a distance may result in death or a complication such as obstetric fistula, a condition rarely seen in the western world, resulting in lifelong incontinence if untreated. Wendy, a retired nurse and midwife, returned home with a plan to create a network of mobile nurses capable of providing health education and medical care to the most inaccessible parts of the park.
Five years later we are a small, independent, family run charity working towards universal access to health education, vaccination and primary healthcare services for all those who live in these inhospitable mountains. We now employ four mobile nurses as well as running a clinic where patients can stay whilst being treated.