This year, 6.9 million people tuned in to watch the final on Tuesday night — to witness the moment that David Atherton was named the victor, after his picnic basket was dubbed “exceptional” by judge Paul Hollywood.
Now, the 36-year-old from Yorkshire has spoken out about the UK’s “incredible” support for mothers and babies in Malawi, and how he was able to see the impact of that support firsthand.
Atherton spent two years working in a UK aid-funded hospital run by charity Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) in Malawi’s Zomba district.
While there, he trained nurses and midwives to improve care for newborns and help prevent maternal deaths.
“I was lucky enough to actually see firsthand things getting better through UK aid,” he told the UK’s Department for International Development following his win. “It really is incredible how so little can go so far.”
Atherton’s project in Malawi was specifically looking at bringing expectant mothers to a health facility.
“Too often, people try to give birth in the villages and if there’s any kind of complications the journey is so long that any critical situation would quickly become a crisis,” he said.
Malawi has one of the worst rates of mothers dying in childbirth in the world, according to VSO — largely because women and girls often aren’t able to access proper healthcare to support them and their babies.
“Volunteering with VSO was predominantly positive but there were some harrowing times, and I think that really helped me in the Bake off tent because I wasn’t going to get stressed by a cake not rising, or my pastry going a bit soggy, because I’d seen other people go through so much in life and be so positive, and I was determined to do the same,” Atherton continued.
“The role of a nurse in Malawi is very complex because often they have to work at a much higher level than is typical in the UK,” Atherton told VSO in a separate interview. “Nurses in Malawi are not specialised, so they’re expected to cover lots and lots of diseases, body systems, admissions and assessments, and often have to perform tasks with limited understanding.”
Atherton worked in Malawi through the UK-aid funded Tropical Health and Education Trust (THET) programme. The programme works with organisations and volunteers from across the UK to help train and educate health workers in Africa and Asia.
In the past nine years alone, THET has trained over 93,000 health workers across 31 countries in Africa and Asia, in partnership with over 130 UK institutions.
Global Citizen campaigns to help improve the health of mothers and babies around the world, through our partnership with UNFPA Supplies — which provides access to safe and effective contraception and maternal healthcare to those most in need.
On Monday night, the UK made an amazing commitment of £425 million across five years to UNFPA Supplies as part of its efforts to improve family planning services and reduce the numbers of preventable maternal deaths globally.
The announcement came after Global Citizens took over 200,000 actions in support of the SheCanPlan campaign, including signing a petition to world leaders, tweeting at governments, attending our events, and sending in personal messages.
It will be a really valuable continuation of the work that the UK has already been doing globally to save the lives of mothers and babies through UK aid.
Since 2015, thanks to UK aid, 5.6 million births have taken place safely in the presence of nurses, midwives, or doctors, according to adepartment update from Sharma on Oct. 28. Those efforts mean that 80,100 mothers have been saved during child birth along with 226,000 babies in the past four years alone.
Atherton said of his experience of witnessing UK aid at work: “To be able to see babies being born that otherwise wouldn’t have survived was just incredible.”
Photo by Jordan Rowland on Unsplash.