Books & Literature

A Doctor in Africa, by Dr Andrew Browning

BIOGRAPHY: From Ethiopia to Sierra Leone, Tanzania to Togo, Dr Andrew Browning has been helping women affected by obstetric fistulas – a debilitating condition resulting from obstructed childbirth – for nearly two decades.

Gives one a totally different perspective on pregnancy.

*Cover image via Pan Macmillan Australia

When you become pregnant in Australia, the risk of maternal death is rarely discussed. We also don’t hear or see the word fistula in common use in Australia. Yet in many parts of Africa, obstetric fistulas and high maternal death rates have long been a reality.

In Dr Andrew Browning’s new novel A Doctor in Africa, we hear of his experiences of the past two decades, where he has been carrying on the efforts of the work originally pioneered by the late Dr Catherine Hamlin (and husband). This work includes treating women suffering from chronic incontinence caused by obstetric fistula injury to regain their lives, and training others to do the same.

Medical terminology is used and explained in simple terms without being overly exhaustive or authoritative, making it a very straightforward book to read. Most of the medical terms are integrated in a patient’s personal story, which also gives us the emotional connection required to read such a medical book. After all, many of these stories are depressing, particularly the highlighting of the ostracism these women face in their own community for a medical condition. 

The author refers to God quite a lot in this book however it doesn’t come across as preachy. His faith is just so entwined as part of his internal thought processing that it comes out when he is narrating pivotal moments of his life. For example, his faith is how he makes decisions, and how he is able to remain content when things go wrong or not in alignment with what he wants. For example, he talks about how he uses prayer and simply puts mishaps as part of God’s fate for a higher purpose. This would be quite inspiring for anyone considering tough-going missionary work.

There is not a lot of character development as it mainly sets people in their work context. However, I found his cross-cultural struggle to fit into either Africa or Australia, which his family also experienced, an excellent commentary of the differences in cultural values between the two countries. For example, Dr Browning is rather selfless, so the love and connection he saw in Ethiopia and Tanzania compared to the lack thereof in Australian communities bothered him immensely. At the same time, however, in Australian communities there would be little to no ostracism faced by someone suffering fistula injury. What is the better situation?

Starting in Ethiopia and finishing in Tanzania, Dr Andrew Browning earned membership to the Order of Australia in 2019 in recognition of his work in maternal health care. His particular focus has always been on restoring the lives of women suffering from obstetric fistula. A Doctor in Africa is really a celebration of his work and achievements overseas, with all the money raised from the book directed towards the Barbara May Foundation, to help with ongoing costs.

Reviewed by Rebecca Wu

Distributed by: Pan Macmillan Australia
Released: April 2021
RRP: $34.99

This review is the opinion of the reviewer and not Glam Adelaide.

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