After a lifetime devoted to the care of women in Africa, Sr Dr Maura Lynch (UCD Medicine 1964) acquired the Ugandan name ‘Nakimuli’ meaning ‘Beautiful Flower’. She returned to Dublin to train as a surgeon after twenty years of missionary medical care in Angola. Returning to Africa, she established a centre of excellence in the treatment of obstetric fistula and for training of healthcare professionals at the Kitovu Healthcare Complex in St Joseph’s Hospital, Kitovu, approximately 140km from the Ugandan capital, Kampala.
Born in Youghal, Co. Cork on the 10th September 1938, Maura Lynch was the fourth of Patrick and Jane Lynch’s nine children. Due to her father’s work with An Post, the family lived at various times in Youghal, Carrick-on-Shannon, Killarney, Tralee and Limerick before finally settling in Dublin. After her secondary education, Maura joined the Medical Missionaries of Mary in Clonmel, Co. Tipperary in 1956. She enrolled in Medicine at UCD in 1958, graduating in 1964 in the top three of the class with an MB BCh BAO degree and a gold medal for surgery.
After completing her internship in medicine and surgery, she then went on to obtain a Diploma in Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology in London in 1966, followed by a Diploma in Tropical Medicine and Public Health in Lisbon in 1967. That same year she was assigned to the 200-bed Chiulo Mission Hospital in Angola where she acted as medical director sharing all the clinical work in medicine, surgery, obstetrics, gynaecology and paediatrics, TB and leprosy with another Sister Doctor for 20 years. During that time, she also worked as a lecturer and examiner in the Nurses Training School.
From 1983 to 1985, she studied for a post graduate fellowship in surgery in Ireland becoming an FRCSI from the Royal College of Surgeons of Ireland, England and Scotland. After her studies she returned to Angola. In 1987, she was assigned to Kitovu Mission Hospital in Uganda as a consultant surgeon/obstetrician/gynaecologist with responsibility for training of medical officers in surgical and obstetrics and gynaecology skills. That year she also spent three months in Nigeria training in obstetric fistula repair.
In the early 1990s, she was a co-founder member of the Association of Surgeons of East Africa (A.S.E.A) and in 1993 she initiated the Obstetric Fistula Repair programme inviting specialists from the UK to Kitovu three times a year to carry out 885 fistula repairs. During this time she also encouraged visiting surgeons and other consultants to come to Kitovu under the sponsorship of rotary Doctors Bank of Great Britain and Ireland. This provided consultant services as well as teaching and the passing on of skills to indigenous personnel.
Between 1999 and 2004, as interest and gradual awareness and appreciation of the dignity and needs of women in the developing world increased, there was greater recognition of the need for improved maternity services for the reduction and prevention of birth injuries. Between 2004 and 2005, Sr Dr Maura Lynch fundraised and supervised the building of a Fistula Unit in Kitovu with 28 beds. Over a 30 year career in Uganda, it is estimated that she was responsible for conducting over 1,000 vesicovaginal fistula repairs, which Professor Bill Powderly, former Dean of Medicine at the UCD School of Medicine described as,
An astonishing record that one can confidently say will never be bettered…. As a result of seeing at first hand the physical, psychological and social isolation endured by African women, she became a champion of dignity and justice for women in the developing world.
In 2007, she was awarded an Honorary Fellowship by the UCD Medicine and Medical Sciences in recognition of her 43 years of medical care in Africa. In 2009, she was nominated by UNFPA (Uganda) as ‘Leader in fight against Fistula’ and this was followed in 2013 with an honorary Fellowship in Obstetrics and Gynaecology from London College of Obstetric & Gynaecology (FR.C.O.G). In 2015 Sr Maura was awarded the prestigious Council of Europe’s North-South Prize. She was chosen in recognition of her ground-breaking work with women whose lives have been devastated by obstetric fistula in Sub-Saharan Africa. She was nominated for the award by Irish Ambassador Anne Webster and it was presented to her by the President of the Portuguese Republic, Professor Cavaco Silva, in the Portuguese Parliament. The North-South Prize of the Council of Europe is awarded every year to two personalities, one from the North and the other from the South. The prize rewards their commitment to the defense and promotion of human rights, democracy and the rule of law as well as to the development of intercultural dialogue and the reinforcement of the North-South partnership and solidarity.
She died unexpectedly in Kampala Hospital on 9th December 2017, on the day scheduled for a golden jubilee celebration of her life in Africa. Speaking at her funeral, the representative of the Irish Ambassador to Uganda, Ms Áine Doody noted,
Sr Maura was a woman of faith. In terms of the characters of Martha and Mary in the new testament story Sr Maura was more Martha than Mary with her life being about a tremendous amount of doing for others. She was a member of the Medical Missionaries of Mary that was founded in the 1930’s in Drogheda. This band of women have served generously and heroically in a good number of developing world countries. She was a proud member of this great congregation of women.
Alongside her well recognized achievements what stands out in the life of Sr Maura was her energy, generosity, outgoing personality and sense of fun. At the Irish Embassy hosted lunch in Kampala each year for the Irish Missionaries on the day of the St Patrick’s Day reception Sr Maura was the life and soul of the party. She was the one to dance and encourage others to do so and enjoyed a song and the craic.
Throughout her distinguished medical career, Sr Dr Maura Lynch was a pioneer of innovative surgery and surgical training, a champion of impoverished women’s health services in Africa and a missionary who dedicate herself to the service of others.
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a h-anam dílis