"I had always wanted to work in humanitarian assistance, it is the reason I become a doctor in the first place.”

North London consultant obstetrician Dr Benjamin Black has written an account of the West African Ebola epidemic.

Belly Woman will be released on October 18, and lays out what Dr Black found when he arrived in Sierra Leone, just weeks after Ebola had spread over the border from Guinea.

Q: What is Belly Woman about?

Dr Black: Belly Woman is a first-hand account of the impact a humanitarian crisis has on access to maternal and reproductive healthcare. The story centres on the West African Ebola epidemic, but the themes are transferrable to many settings. It is a story too often left untold. Belly Woman explores the global disparity in maternity care, including safe abortion care, alongside the compounding factors of a humanitarian emergency. As an obstetrician working throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, I also reflect on what lessons we failed to learn.

Q: What led you to write this?

Dr Black: I wrote Belly Woman because I felt it was an important event to document and share, I also wanted to bring the issues of maternal health disparity into focus.

Q: As a doctor, what was the moment that stood out while dealing with the Ebola epidemic?

Dr Black: The West African Ebola epidemic was a massive event associated with immense suffering scattered with as moments of hope. It is difficult to single out one event, as each life lost and each life saved mattered. I’m very proud of our efforts to try and improve the care pregnant women received inside the Ebola Treatment Centres and our efforts to improve access to contraception.

Q: Why did you swap the relative comfort of the Whittington Hospital for a role with Médecins Sans Frontières in 2014?

Dr Black: I had always wanted to work in humanitarian assistance - it is the reason I become a doctor in the first place - so you could say, it was always in my plan.

Q: What is your big takeaway from the experience of dealing with two major epidemics of Ebola and Covid-19?

Dr Black: There are many lessons to consider, the first being whether or not we are capable of learning from these episodes at all. Although very different illnesses, there was a lot that should have been transferred across to the Covid response from the "lessons learnt" during Ebola, in practice, this did not happen to result in a chaotic and poorly communicated response. The other big takeaway is that you can not separate the emergency health response from the continued need for standard healthcare - one supports the other. Having a weak public health system and poorly functioning clinics allows fertile ground for epidemics to spread.

Belly Woman is released on Neem Tree Press on October 19.