There is a long history of championing and working for safer childbirth in Aberdeen.

Puerperal fever or sepsis is a life threatening infection acquired by mothers at the time of childbirth, caused primarily by the poor hygiene practices of care providers. Evidence of the infectious nature and preventability of puerperal sepsis goes back well over two centuries to the original work of the Aberdeen-based doctor and “man midwife”, Dr Alexander Gordon.

In 1795, Alexander Gordon published A Treatise on the Epidemic Puerperal Fever of Aberdeen. This described for the first time the contagious nature of puerperal sepsis and recommended the crucial preventative measure of disinfection of birth attendants’ hands and clothes. Today research and teaching at the University of Aberdeen continues to build on Gordon’s legacy and so help prevent the estimated one million deaths among mothers and babies in low-income countries each year owing to poor hygiene at the time of childbirth.

Safer Childbirth - a socio-economic issue?

Sir Dugald Baird graduated in medicine from Glasgow University in 1922. His early experiences attending births in the Glasgow slums and in the city's Royal Maternity Hospital shaped his interest in the social and economic influences on the health of women, their babies, and across generations. He moved to Aberdeen in 1937 as Regius Professor of Midwifery at the University of Aberdeen when rates of maternal mortality in Scotland were still appallingly high. During the next three decades, his main interests were in the areas of clinical practice, service provision and health policy in reproductive health, perinatal and maternal mortality and social obstetrics. With his wife Lady Matilda Deans Baird, also a physician, Sir Dugald established the first free family planning clinic in Aberdeen.

In 1951 he set up the Aberdeen Maternity and Neonatal Databank, which continues today to link all the obstetric and fertility-related events occurring to women from a defined population and which today, is generating increasing interest as a model in low-income countries.

The Dugald Baird Centre for Research on Women's Health at the Aberdeen Maternity Hospital is named in his honour and provided the foundation for the establishment of Immpact.

Having an Immpact

Immpact, the Initiative for Maternal Mortality Programme Assessment, a seven year global initiative was established at the University of Aberdeen in 2002 under the direction of Professor Wendy Graham with the support of the UK Department for International Development (DFID), the Gates Foundation and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

Immpact enhanced and developed new methods for measuring maternal mortality and other relevant outcomes in order to strengthen capacity for evidence-based decision-making and rigorous evaluation. The aim was also to determine and evaluate cost-effective interventions and strategies for improvement and their implications for equity and sustainability. Primary and secondary research activities were undertaken through a collaborative network of country and technical partners across Africa, Asia and Latin America. A number of new tools and techniques were developed during the initiative, which were made freely available.

In 2008, the Immpact “initiative” evolved into a research group within the University’s Division of Applied Health Sciences, providing excellent research, training and technical assistance through funding from a broad range of international organisations and research funding bodies. See Our Work for more information.