Last month, I had the opportunity of visiting Darfur in Sudan on my first medical relief mission. I am currently a trainee orthopaedic surgeon in South East London and am also a member of Doctors Worldwide, a registered charity involved in the provision of medical relief in situations of crisis. For the mission in Darfur, Doctors Worldwide teamed up with The Malaysian Medical Relief Society (also known as 'Mercy').
|`I found the people of Sudan to be some of the most hospitable and good-natured people that I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. What struck me most was their sheer resilience in the face of disaster.'
My destination was El-Geniena, the most western city in Darfur, not far from the border with Chad. Mercy arranged my transport between Khartoum and El-Geniena and provided accommodation and food while I was out there. On arrival, I was quickly briefed on the current crisis and also the specific projects that Mercy is currently involved in.
Mercy had set up their headquarters next to the main hospital in El-Geniena and was mainly involved in projects in the hospital. The hospital itself was a group of buildings in a compound. There were the basic array of wards and most of the essential departments which were staffed by regular (underpaid) Sudanese workers. The medical staff consisted of 12 doctors, this including the director who was a general surgeon from Khartoum. The staff tried to do their best; this was however deeply challenging as we were often without electricity, water and provision of the most basic supplies.
This hospital was important as it received all of the problem cases from the surrounding villages and camps. Mercy had identified some key problems such as the inability of the hospital to provide food for their patients which had led to the patients' families setting up camp inside the compound so that they could cook for and feed their loved ones. To alleviate these problems, an institutional feeding programme was established in the hospital that not only ensured patients were fed, but also provided family members with shelter.
I had the opportunity of visiting the hospital on numerous occasions in my relief capacity, but was also asked by the director to provide input into the care of the orthopaedic patients there. On one occasion, I assisted in a couple of orthopaedic operations - what really impressed me was the dedication and competence of the director who not only had a good grasp of simple orthopaedic principles (considering this was not his speciality,) but was also very enthusiastic in teaching his juniors. This was all the more impressive if you saw the conditions in which they had to operate. At times there was more light coming from the window than from the weak theatre lights that kept going out!
Although the staff worked hard, at times they were quite blasé about simple procedures such as waste disposal and safety issues. They blamed the inadequate resources and I sensed that better provision of essential equipment and training could potentially make a huge difference.
Mercy helped me in organising work in a Basic Health Unit in one of the camps for the internally displaced people. There I gained real 'hands-on' experience of the type that I was anticipating. I saw patients independently with the aid of a translator (provided by Mercy). It was tiring, but very worthwhile and gave me good insights into the challenges of working with very few resources at my disposal. I did not have the luxury of diagnostic blood tests and x-rays, for example, and worked entirely on clinical appraisal of patients' conditions.
More than half the patients I saw were children under the age of five and most of the illnesses were either diarrhoeal or respiratory tract infections for which treatment was fairly basic. The main problem was the lack of adequate clean water. The stock of medicines was actually not too bad, but we ran very low on my last day there.
I found the people of Sudan to be some of the most hospitable and good-natured people that I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. What struck me most was their sheer resilience in the face of disaster. They were content and patient - qualities seldom displayed by those of us living lives of relative luxury in the West. It was very humbling to see and I have, I'm sure, not only benefited from the clinical experience, but also from the exposure to such great human qualities.
I pray that God relieves the Sudanese people of their problems and swiftly returns them to a state of security and safety.