The B!RTH Project: exclusive offer for RSTMH members

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Wednesday, 29 August 2018

By Lucy Halton, Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine

The B!RTH Project – a unique fusion of science and theatre – is delighted to invite RSTMH members to an evening of theatre and debate this 4 October at the Wellcome Collection in London.

Did you know that each year, an estimated 303,000 women die because of pregnancy-related causes? And that in addition to this, 2.6 million babies are stillborn and 2.8 million die within the first month of life? 99% of these deaths occur in low and middle-income countries, and most are preventable.

B!RTH uses theatre to raise awareness and provoke debate on global inequality in maternal healthcare, using seven specially commissioned plays written by seven female playwrights from seven different countries.

First performed as part of a festival at the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester, the project is now managed by the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine and the plays, along with an accompanying educational toolkit, are available to download and use free of charge for universities, NGOs, and charitable organisations.

Power of storytelling

The power of the plays to change hearts and minds is well-testified; a performance of two of our plays at the World Health Organization prompted this response from one senior delegate:

“We have the facts and the evidence; we know these subject matters well. We’ve got it in our heads, but you also need it in your heart. The power of theatre and storytelling does that.”

The plays tell stories from Brazil, China, India, Kenya, Syria, the UK and the USA, highlighting themes including choice, overmedicalisation of childbirth, paternalism in medical care, conflict and migration, sexual violence, population control, and racial inequality.

All seven plays were written in conversation with experts and real women living with the issues explored; in performing the plays, B!RTH aims to amplify the voices of these women so that they reach those in the position to make change.

Impact of obstetric fistula

Our event this October will feature ‘Orchid’ by Mũmbi Kaigwa (Kenya), and ‘Question & Question’ by Liwaa Yazji (Syria).

‘Orchid’ unveils the psychological and social impact of obstetric fistula on women in Kenya, addressing the stigma of the condition and its long-term impact on women’s health and livelihood in powerful verbatim form.

An obstetric fistula is a hole between the vagina and rectum or bladder that is usually caused by prolonged obstructed labour, leaving a woman incontinent of urine or faeces or both.

While fistula is all but eradicated in high-income countries, approximately 2 million women live with it untreated around the world, around 300,000 of whom are in Kenya.

‘Orchid’ was written by Mũmbi after extensive time spent with doctors and patients at fistula care centres in Kenya, and it thus enables audiences to gain a unique insight into the human reality of fistula.

Connection between war, gender, power and birth

‘Question and Question’ explores the relationship between war, gender, power and birth, and shines a light on issues of human-trafficking, abuse of reproductive rights, and lack of choice for women, by telling the stories of three Syrian women, each living through a series of traumas.

Since 2011, approximately 5.1 million people have fled Syria as refugees, and it is estimated that almost half of the global refugee population is women. With occurrences of sexual and obstetric violence rising dramatically in areas of conflict, ‘Question and Question’ grapples with some of the most challenging issues in the world today.

Liwaa wrote much of the play while living in Damascus and is determined that we listen to, rather than speak for, women in conflict, and learn from them of their unique reproductive health needs.

B!RTH’s other five plays address excessive intervention and high caesarean rates (Brazil), population control initiatives and what they mean for women’s bodily autonomy (China and India), choice and the lack thereof in high-income countries (UK), and racial inequality in maternal healthcare (the USA).

Global maternal and newborn health targets have expanded from a focus on preventing death, to the importance of health and well-being.

There is need for renewed emphasis and action, to ensure that all women have the right to, and are able to obtain, the highest attainable standard of health and well-being including physical, mental and social aspects of health.

Chance to survive and thrive, during and after pregnancy

The aim is to ensure that every woman in every setting has an equal chance to survive and thrive, during and after pregnancy.

B!RTH aims to provoke debate to this end within a range of contexts, from policy makers to community groups, by staging performances and encouraging people around the world to use and work with these plays.

A growing number of universities and community groups are using the plays in their work: whether that’s hosting a performance as part of a conference or awareness-raising session to provoke debate, reading the scripts aloud with perinatal support groups, or using excerpts of the plays as teaching materials in lectures, we’re here to help you to work with the plays.

Sarah McNamara, from Liverpool John Moores University, says: “In collaboration with B!RTH, Liverpool John Moores University are able to offer their student midwives a unique learning experience, a collaboration between science and theatre.

“The series of plays we utilise in undergraduate education are vibrant and provocative, raising their awareness around the global inequality in maternal and newborn health.”

Exclusive offer for RSTMH members

We are pleased to announce that a limited number of tickets to our October event have been reserved for RSTMH members.

The evening will consist of performances of ‘Orchid’ and ‘Question & Question’, followed by a discussion from our expert panel, which will include Dr Nynke van den Broek, Head of the Centre for Maternal and Newborn Health at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, and distinguished guests including Toyin Saraki, Founder and President of the Wellbeing Foundation Africa.

There are 20 tickets available for RSTMH members, which will be allocated on a first-come first-served basis; to reserve yours, email and quote ‘RSTMH B!RTH booking’ in your email header. If you know your RSTMH membership, please also include that in the email.  

To find out more and download the plays and toolkit, visit, and follow us on Twitter @BirthDebate.