White Ribbon Alliance



White Ribbon Alliance

March 3, 2017
By Zoe Matthews and Brigid McConville

Friends and colleagues around the world are mourning the loss of a passionate campaigner for the rights of women in childbirth, Louise Hulton, who has died of cancer aged 46 at her UK home. Louise was an energetic and inspirational leader who specialised in improving the health and care of women in childbirth and their newborn babies. She was a fierce advocate who believed in acting on the evidence.

She was also a devoted wife and mother.

The level of sadness and loss at the news of her death is widespread for she not only touched many lives, but also used every moment of her life to improve the lot of others. Starting off with a degree at Cambridge, followed by a Kennedy scholarship at Harvard, Louise was always eager to understand the suffering of the world around her, and ambitious to forge forward with effective solutions. Her PhD, based at Southampton University, set out the framework that would be the guiding light for her life’s work to improve quality care in maternity services worldwide.

The idea behind her work was simple; to improve the health and survival chances of women in childbirth and their newborns we need to check up on and improve all aspects of care. This includes the quality of midwives and doctors, the physical surroundings and supplies in the hospital wards and not least the level of respect and dignity accorded to women during the whole process. Because if you need to work through a checklist before flying a plane – how is it not important to check methodically for all the needed ingredients before each and every birth? Always ahead of her time, fifteen years later the World Health Organisation has established the Hulton framework as the way forward for maternity services all around the world.

Louise also understood the pivotal role of advocacy in making change happen – by helping lift women’s voices directly to decision-makers. From 2008, she actively joined up with the White Ribbon Alliance as we were successfully demanding that global leaders pay attention to the scandal of maternal death around the world. Through her work at Options and as Director of the Evidence4Action programme, she partnered with White Ribbon Alliance to focus on accountability for maternal health in Africa. She believed that every life counted, and every life – and death - must be counted.

After all, she knew from her own personal experience what it meant to suffer trauma in childbirth, and in the UK she was active in campaigning for maternity rights. Then in 2014 she was appointed to the Board of White Ribbon Alliance in the UK and took up the role of Chair of Trustees just before a recurrence of cancer made her take a step back.

But Louise did not let cancer get her down. For her it was a ‘rude interruption’ – a nuisance factor to be dealt with effectively and with energy and resources, but with little impact on the ongoing force of her work as a leader in international health.

It may seem strange to say that her death last Wednesday in Brighton was a huge shock, given that she had been diagnosed with terminal cancer some years ago. But to those of us that knew her – as well as to the many thousands of followers of her extraordinary cancer blog Cancer is Pants – it was just that. This was the woman who was going to beat cancer, the pioneering medical researcher who had charted her own path through a mix of innovative and traditional treatments, making informed decisions about risks and benefits while the rest of us looked on with amazement.

Louise was a shining light taken from us too early, when she had so much more to give. She is survived by her husband Rupert Howes, and their four children Ella, Tom, William and Ned.