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Last Updated: Thursday, 15 April, 2004, 04:58 GMT 05:58 UK
From crime writer to life saver
Minette Walters
Walters looked at mother-child health during her trip
Writers draw on all sorts of experiences to help them develop ideas for their work.

But crime writer Minette Walters couldn't have got much further away from her favourite subject when she visited Sierra Leone.

She was there with the aid organisation Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) to witness its work and the struggle to save lives.

  • Click on the link to the right to see Minette Walters in discussion on the Breakfast couch.

    MSF is taking writers to some of the most inaccessible parts of the world; the aim to use the writers' talent and experience to draw attention to worldwide suffering.

    Minette Walters is the second writer to take part in such a trip - she follows in the footsteps of Joanne Harris.

    In fact when Walters was approached by MSF she couldn't wait to pack her bags.

    It was to be a new project for the author of books including The Ice House, The Sculptress and The Scold's Bride which won the best British Crime Novel award in 1994.

    Her assignment in Sierra Leone was to look at the work MSF is doing to improve mother-child health.

    As a mother she was able to identify with many of the issues facing the women. Life expectancy in Sierra Leone is only 37 years with mothers and babies being the most vulnerable.

    Mortality rate

    The country has the highest mortality rate in the world for under fives with one in three children dying before they reach the age of 5.

    One in 50 mothers die during child birth making the whole experience terrifying.

    Walters visited Kambia, Tonkolili and Bombali where MSF has 17 clinics and three hospitals serving a population of 1.2 million.


    During her trip, she helped with an emergency caesarean, carried out with the most basic facilities and no running water, just supplies from bags.

    She saw twins delivered and although the mother and one baby survived, the other died.

    Then she saw a 17 year old girl with eclampsia causing her to have high blood pressure and fits.

    Walters helped hold the young woman down while she was operated on, the woman also had twins, but again, one of the babies died.

    If basic anti natal care had been available, the condition could have been avoided - in the UK pre-eclampsia, the less serious condition is only usually seen due to better healthcare conditions.

    Speaking about her visit, Walters says: "You cannot visit a project like this without being bowled over by the professionals that are giving up 6 to 9 months to go to a country and work.

    "The most amazing aspect of all of this was the Outreach project - they are picking up the mothers at risk and teaching them about family planning and attending the clinic."

    But even the simple things like a proper system of patients' records can make a huge difference in poor areas, things that we often take for granted.

    Minette talks to Dermot and Natasha
    "I knew it would be an amazing experience"

    BBC Breakfast


    Minette Walters
    08 Nov 02  |  Breakfast


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