For a Sierra Leone community, a resident trained physician is a privilege. To have one in rural Bumpeh Chiefdom in 1950 was a blessing. A huge blessing. For women and their babies, it often meant life over death.
We’re celebrating the life of Dr. Winifred Smith Bradford (October 20, 1922 – July 19, 2020), a remarkable woman who dedicated herself to serving women and children around the world.
Sherbro Foundation dedicates this year’s community health nursing scholarships to Dr. Bradford for her long medical career, beginning in an outpost clinic in Rotifunk, Bumpeh Chiefdom in 1950.
Winifred Smith was born in Enid, Oklahoma just two years after women got the vote in the US. Imagine the vision and determination of a young woman from small town middle America who set her goal to become a doctor. In the latter days of the Great Depression and during WWII, she managed to put herself through college and medical school.
Dr. Smith was one of first women to graduate from York College of Medicine. With the goal of being a medical missionary to China, she continued on to Yale to study Chinese. But the Communist Chinese regime soon made clear they no longer wanted American missionaries.
Dr. Smith’s time at Yale wasn’t for naught. There she met the love of her life and partner in service, Lester Bradford, a forestry major. Her goal of being a missionary doctor was undeterred and just changed geography to Africa – Sierra Leone, West Africa. The United Brethren in Christ (UBC), an arm of the Methodist Church, first sent her to prepare at the London School of Tropical Medicine.
Dr. Smith, left, delivering a baby before departing for the London School of Tropical Medicine
Lester had to be satisfied with letters until, her training completed, Dr. Smith began practicing in the UBC clinic in Rotifunk. He joined her and they were married in the historic Martyrs Memorial Church in Rotifunk.
That was the first of the Bradfords’ many joint assignments in developing countries around the world – she practicing medicine and he leading agriculture development projects.
During their 16 years of service in Sierra Leone, Dr. Bradford delivered thousands of babies and treated thousands of children. A working mom herself, she and Lester had five children of their own.
On their return to the US, Dr. Bradford did a second medical residency and continued in the baby business, now in Mt. Vernon, Washington. She helped women who wanted the option of home births and founded the Mount Vernon Birth Center. Her compassionate approach to birthing revolutionized the whole birth industry in Skagit County.
Retirement was anything but retiring for Dr. Bradford and her husband. He took overseas assignments carrying out projects in South Sudan and Pakistan, and she continued her medical work there. Above left, she started a birthing center in Juba, Sudan and counseled families in Pakistan, above right.
Today, the need for health care professionals in rural Bumpeh Chiefdom and Sierra Leone remains as great as ever. Devastated by its 11-year rebel war, Sierra Leone was struggling to rebuild the country and its health care services when in 2014 it was hit by Ebola.
It only had 136 physicians for a population of 6,000,000 at the start of the outbreak, and those mostly in cities. By the end, Sierra Leone lost 11 physicians, among its most senior, or 8% of its medical ranks. Many more of the 1000 nurses/midwives also succumbed to Ebola.
Sierra Leone remains one of the most dangerous places in the world for a woman to give birth. And one in ten young children never see their fifth birthday.
In 2018, Sherbro Foundation started community health nursing scholarships to help build health care capacity in Bumpeh Chiefdom. Three young chiefdom women are now preparing to serve in small community health units that since Dr. Bradford’s time provide first level primary health care.
Bumpeh Chiefdom’s government-run health units are staffed by a community health nurse, usually operating alone, who diagnoses and treats common infectious disease like malaria and diarrhea, provides pre/postnatal care for pregnant women and serves as midwife to deliver babies. They vaccinate babies and monitor for malnutrition. They can provide family planning services, basic first aid like stitching wounds and screen for chronic disease for referral, like hypertension and diabetes.
Nine government-run health units serve Bumpeh Chiefdom’s 208 villages and 40,000 people. For most villagers, this is their only source of health care.
This year, we dedicate the community health nursing scholarships to Dr. Bradford and her legacy of serving Sierra Leone people – especially its mothers and children.
Three young women, Fatmata, Umu and Safiatu, above, will soon enter their second year of a three-year nursing program. Each $1100 scholarship covers tuition, practicals (when they’re placed in a Freetown hospital for hands-on experience), supplies, food and transportation for the year.
Join us with your gift here and return Fatmata, Umu and Safiatu to nursing school. You’ll keep them on a path to soon be caring for Bumpeh Chiefdom’s mothers and children – and all its people. Thank you!