Frances Foord obituary

Other lives: Midwife who spent 26 years in the Gambia before focusing on postnatal care in London

My friend Frances Foord, who has died aged 72 of ovarian cancer, worked for 26 years in the Gambia as a nurse-midwife for the Dunn Nutrition Unit, based in Keneba village. She also later taught midwifery at the University of the Gambia.

Much of Frances’s work was dedicated to promoting women’s equality, including by supporting breastfeeding mothers and campaigning to abolish female genital mutilation (FGM).

Providing care for more than 500 women in three rural villages of Kiang West, she encouraged the incorporation of traditional village midwives into the national health system, and also helped to establish a mobile midwifery service that reduced maternal mortality five-fold.

She was born at Fairview Farm, near Stockbridge in Hampshire, to John Foord and his wife, Margaret (nee Long), who owned and ran the farm. After attending Andover grammar school, Frances worked from 1969 to 1973 as a technician in the physiology and biochemistry department at the University of Southampton.

After a brief period in which she discovered a taste for travel on the hippy trail to India and Kathmandu she settled down, in 1974, to studying for a five-year degree in human biology at the University of Surrey, which included training as a state registered nurse at St George’s hospital in Tooting, London. She followed up with a further year of studying to be a state certified midwife at Queen Charlotte’s hospital, and after a short spell as a staff nurse at St George’s departed in 1980 for the Gambia.

Frances made Keneba her home. There she met Kebba Colley, an engineer, converted to Islam and became his third wife. In her adopted country she was secretary of the National Association of Gambian Nurses and Midwives (1992-2004), securing its membership of the International Confederation of Midwives and raising money for Gambian nurses to attend its congresses. She also became an honorary fellow of the West African College of Nursing, which is based in Nigeria, and for seven years was a volunteer at the Gambia Committee on Traditional Practices, an NGO campaigning against FGM, which was not outlawed in the Gambia until 2015.

Partly to retain her midwifery registration but also to care for her parents, in 2006 Frances returned to the UK, where she worked as a midwife at West Middlesex University hospital. There her focus was on postnatal care, particularly breastfeeding, and she helped the hospital to become the first in London to attain Unicef baby friendly status. She retired in 2017, by which time she had become a community midwife.

In her spare time Frances enjoyed cooking, and in Keneba made arrangements with the local Fulani herdsmen to get fresh milk from which she made cream, butter and ice-cream. She was also a fan of stage musicals – we went to many together – and joined a choir after retiring from West Middlesex.

She is survived by Kebba, co-wives Ndye and Hawa, her daughter Safi, and stepchildren Lamin, Fatou, Isatou, Alieu, Cira, Rohey and Ma Tida.

Colette Jones

The GuardianTramp

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