Manchester Global Health Society at the B!RTH Festival


The Manchester Global Health Society’s involvement in the Royal Exchange Theatre’s B!RTH Festival (October 19th – 22nd, 2016) began in early April 2016 – a cross-collaboration between the medical sciences and arts – and was led by medical student Clarissa Hemmingsen and members of the GHS Committee, joined by members of the Obstetrics & Gynaecology Society.

The workshop, which was delivered on the Saturday of the festival, came to fruition over the summer, with the support and involvement of the Manchester University Obstetrics & Gynaecology Society (OGSOC) led by medical student Nikhita Handa, and that of Professor Mahesh Nirmalan, Professor of Medical Education at the University of Manchester and Vice-Dean for Social Responsibility. Workshops around the topics of birth and birth complications were developed in order to highlight to members of the general public medical aspects of childbirth, both in terms of normal birth, and interventions.
The team would also like to thank Dr Kenneth Ma and Hannah King of Saint Mary’s Hospital for their hands-on training, guidance and support, both throughout preparation for the Festival, and also on the day itself.

njo_3438The purpose of the 90-minute workshop, divided into three sections, was to highlight experiences of normal childbirth, what mothers may experience when things go wrong during birth, how obstetric interventions may be used to preserve life, and the health inequalities in access to life-saving treatments that are faced by low-income communities of the Global South.

njo_3426These mini-workshops were designed to supplement content and provide background to the seven international plays delivered during the B!RTH Festival, and contrast the access to maternal health services that benefits pregnant women and families in the U.K., with differences further afield.

  • OGSOC presented on the normal mechanisms of childbirth, discussed the physical process of birth, and spoke to members of the audience about their own experiences of childbirth.
  • OGSOC and the Global Health Society presented on birth complications, such as shoulder dystocia and obstetric fistula (the topic of one of the seven plays).
  • The Global Health Society presented on the history of obstetrics in the U.K. and obstetric instruments (1600s – 2000s), including the development of forceps, compared historical devices to modern developments in obstetric medicine, and focused on how lack of access to these technologies in low-resource settings continue njo_3452to disadvantage and endanger the lives of mothers and children today.
    The instruments discussed were also on display, on loan from the University of Manchester Museum of Medicine and Health.






  • Throughout the festival period, academic posters created for the event were also displayed around the Royal Exchange Theatre to provide further information about various aspects of childbirth and maternal health.njo_3356

Clarissa Hemmingsen, Global Health Society President and Project Lead, said:

“The B!RTH Festival was a unique opportunity for the Global Health Society and OGSOC to engage with the intersection of medicine, education, and the arts, whilst connecting with members of the public. Through hopefully opening eyes and initiating discussion about the scope of advancement in obstetric medicine from the 1600s to now, and what that has meant for mothers, their children, and families in this country with its privileged access to health, I believe we achieved our aim as a team of highlighting global inequalities in access to healthcare as a vital injustice that requires both acknowledgement and immediate action.”

Nikhita Handa, University of Manchester Obstetrics & Gynaecology Society, said:

“All of the students from OGSOC who had the privilege of taking part felt it was a great opportunity to also hear stories from patient experiences, and it also made us aware of how fortunate we are to have the medical provisions and resources that the NHS provides to pregnant women.”

Fawaz AlJohar, Global Health Society, said:

“Attending the BIRTH festival offered me a unique and educational perspective into a very personal experience that every mother shares with her child. Participating in the workshop on the complications of labour enabled me to gain an insight into the mechanisms behind labour and the difficult problems that may arise during the process. Several women attending the workshop were also kind enough to share their personal experiences, which was of great benefit to both myself and the rest of the people attending.”

Sophie Ashley, Global Health Society, said:

“It is not often during the busyness of medical school you have the opportunity to appreciate the vibrant arts and culture that Manchester has to offer. The Royal Exchange Theatre held a truly wonderful event and celebrated globalisation, whilst highlighting some conditions which need our attention. Obstetric fistula was one in particular which stood out for me. Having never heard of this condition before, I found the Kenyan play especially insightful and meaningful. The dynamic, emotional dancing throughout, conveyed brilliantly both the physical pain and the pain of isolation these Kenyan women go through following obstetric fistula. It ended, however, on a more feministic and brighter note as the women empowered through medical education and support groups embarked on the independency that treatment had brought to their lives.”


We would like to thank:

The Royal Exchange Theatre and the Oglesby Charitable Trust for inviting us to take part in the B!RTH Festival.

The University of Manchester Museum of Medicine and Health and Stephanie Seville for loaning us a selection of historical instruments of obstetric surgery and instrumental birth.

Dr Kenneth Ma and Hannah King for their training and mentorship.

Professor Mahesh Nirmalan for all of his support and guidance.
The University of the Obstetrics & Gynaecology Society for their collaboration.

And lastly but most importantly, the B!RTH Festival audience and members of the public for their interest and participation.

Clarissa Hemmingsen is a first-year medical student, and current President of the MCR Global Health Society.

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