University of Aberdeen Takes you to the main page for this section

latest releases | archive

Aberdeen’s efforts to save mothers and babies

An unsung hero of the medical world who made a groundbreaking finding over two centuries ago that could have saved millions of women’s lives is being celebrated tomorrow (September 25).

The Aberdeen Medico-Chirurgical Society at Foresterhill in Aberdeen is hosting a lecture by acclaimed author Rebecca Abrams to mark the launch of her novel Touching Distance about Aberdeen physician Dr Alexander Gordon who was the first to discover that puerperal fever or childbed fever was spread by unclean practices at childbirth.

The 18th century physician's findings came amid an epidemic that struck Aberdeen between 1789 and 1792, claiming the lives of over 70 women. Tragically, Gordon's discovery was not initially believed or understood by his contemporaries, resulting in millions of needless deaths in the 19th century.

While Aberdeen hosts tomorrow's lecture, the tragedy of tens of thousands of women still dying during pregnancy and childbirth in the developing world will come under scrutiny at a major event also taking place tomorrow at the United Nations in New York.

What connects both events are the past and current contributions by researchers in Aberdeen towards preventing maternal mortality.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Heads of States and Governments from nearly 100 countries which signed the Millennium Declaration in 2000 are attending tomorrow's New York meeting.

Their purpose is to review progress towards achieving the Declaration's eight goals - known as Millennium Development Goals or MDGs – and to renew efforts for those which look set to fail the 2015 target. The two of the MDGs most off-target relate to the survival of mothers and children.

Professor Wendy Graham who heads Immpact, the University of Aberdeen's research initiative which is striving to promote better health for mothers to be in developing countries, has provided major input into a key resource document being presented to leaders at tomorrow's UN meeting.

She said: "Today the risk of death to a woman during childbirth in the poorest parts of the world is still greater than it was in the United Kingdom during the time of Dr Alexander Gordon.

"What makes the statistics all the more shocking is the length of time the world has known how to prevent women and babies dying around the time of childbirth.

"The event occurring at the University of Aberdeen with Rebecca Abrams will highlight this stark reality - just as the Heads of State in New York sit down to debate the global collective failure towards mothers and babies in the developing world.

"Today, two centuries on from Dr Gordon's findings, researchers at the University of Aberdeen are working with the UN, bi-lateral agencies and Governments in developing countries to help prevent maternal and baby deaths from infections and from other complications of childbirth.

"Our research has shown how health services in the poorest parts of the world need strengthening in order for discoveries – like those made Dr Gordon – to benefit all women.

"The Immpact project has been funded by the British and US governments and by the Gates Foundation since 2002 and is now sharing its findings with all those with the power and responsibility to act – including those attending the New York meeting.

"Immpact researchers have also helped with the essential background work for Rebecca Abrams novel and so we are delighted to support the launch of Touching Distance with the lecture at the MedChi in  Aberdeen."

For more information about Immpact see: For information about Immpact's involvement in the UN meeting see:

To attend Rebecca Abram's  lecture at 7pm on Thursday, please contact  Gillian Earle, Administrative Secretary, Aberdeen Medico-Chirurgical Society,  Medical School,  Foresterhill,  Aberdeen   Tel. 01224 552737 or email

The public may also wish to attend a book signing being given by the author tonight (Wednesday) at Waterstone's, Union Bridge, Aberdeen at 7.30pm.


Professor Wendy Graham, Rebecca Abrams, Dr David Millar, President of the Aberdeen MedChi Society, and Mr Alec Cumming, Chief Executive Officer of Immpact are all available for interviews / photographs. To arrange please contact Jennifer Phillips on 01224 273174.



Notes to Editors

Issued by the Communications Team, Office of External Affairs, University of Aberdeen, King's College, Aberdeen. Tel: (01224) 272014.

Issued on: Wednesday 24th of September 2008

Contact: Jennifer Phillips

<< back

University Switchboard: +44 (0)1224 272000
Enquiries about studying at The University of Aberdeen should be directed to