Dr Andrew Browning (with Patrick Kennedy)
A Doctor in Africa
Pan MacMillan Australia, Sydney, 2021
ISBN-13: 978-1760983017

A Doctor in Africa

 

"Now world-renowned, Andrew Browning has for decades been on the frontline of the battle to treat and prevent obstetric fistulas. Browning...has spent almost two decades in various countries in Africa, most notably Ethiopia and Tanzania, as a Christian missionary doctor. This book is his account of that work and, more broadly, of the life he and his wife Stephanie have spent in the service of others."

Thanks to the standard of medical care available, the development of obstetric fistulas due to obstructed births is a rare event in Western nations. Not so in the developing world - places like rural Africa and South Asia - where it can led to the death of the mother and baby or injuries which can cause incontinence and a lifetime of discrimination.

Now world-renowned, Andrew Browning has for decades been on the frontline of the battle to treat and prevent obstetric fistulas. Browning - yes, he's the nephew of Valerie Browning, famous for her development work and life among Ethiopia's Afar people - spent almost 20 years living in Africa, most notably Ethiopia and Tanzania, as a Christian missionary doctor. This book is his account of that work and, more broadly, of the life he and his wife Stephanie have spent in the service of others.

Browning, who emigrated with his family to rural New South Wales when just three-years-old, grew up in an inspiring Christian family - yes, there's Aunt Valerie but others who have inspired him include his grandmother Barbara May Browning (after whom the Barbara May Foundation is named) and his parents, father David, also a doctor, and mother Daphne.

Browning relates how when, just six-years-old at Sunday School, he was inspired to his life's calling by a visiting missionary nurse from Tanzania: "I was sure hers was a life I wanted to emulate as a missionary and I decided it would be best to be a doctor". Some eight years later, as a 14-year-old, he went on to have a life-changing experience - what he calls his 'born again moment' - while attending a church youth group event in a village near his hometown of Bowral.

Browning first visited Africa as part of his medical training, heading to Tanzania for a placement at a hospital close to the border with Burundi and Rwanda (just prior to the Rwandan genocide of 1994). Confronted with situations including a man who suffered a savage bite from a hippo and the many health challenges facing people living in refugee camps, it was something of a baptism of fire for Browning but, in his words, gave him "a taste of what I might contribute" along with "an overwhelming compassion and desire to serve those less fortunate than us in Australia".

Having completed his training and worked a couple of years as a junior doctor in Gosford (and met Stephanie, who would later become his wife), Browning returned to Africa in 1996 - this time to Ethiopia. Initially spending time with his aunt among the Afar, he soon started work at a hospital founded by missionaries in Addis Ababa and it was there that he began to specialise in surgery to correct fistulas. It was the start of journey in Africa that would last more than 20 years (although it wasn't until 2001 that he was based there more permanently) during which time he worked at numerous hospitals, particularly in Ethiopia and Tanzania, as well as married and started a family.

Given Browning's profession, readers won't be surprised to find considerable space is spent describing medical procedures (and there are a couple of points where readers are warned of the graphic nature of what's to follow). But this is, above all, the inspiring story of a man whose call from God has seen him impact thousands of lives.

Browning returned to Australia with his family in 2017 but still travels to countries including Ethiopia, Tanzania, Ugandam South Sudan and Nepal performing surgery and conducting training. He says that he's personally operated on more than 7,000 women who suffered from fistulas following an obstructed childbirth. He's also been involved in the training of what could only amount to thousands more, established hospitals and new programs all with the aim of ending this life-threatening and debilitating problem.

Browning concludes the book with a mention of two common questions he's asked when speaking about his work at events in Australia - firstly, is it safe?, and, secondly, why has he given up what could be a very comfortable life in Australia to work for next to nothing? His answer to both centres around the centrality of Christ in his life and the "deep immovable confidence and peace that comes from knowing your Creator".

"Even in the face of dangers, ridicule, and persecution, this truth has given me meaning, drive and purpose - and it's given me joy." You'll find all four in abundance in the pages of this book.