I have been a GP for over 35 years but have always had an interest in working in resource-poor countries. I went to India for my elective in 1977 and was working in St Lucia as a doctor in A+E in 1980 when Hurricane Allen struck. I helped with the relief work, travelling round in a Suzuki Jeep providing primary care to outlying villages. So when I left my practice, in March 2016, I was keen to do similar work again.
I have thoroughly enjoyed my experience as part of the UK Emergency Medical Team. UK-Med provide very good training and when on deployment, I felt well supported by them and UK Emergency Medical Team partners. I have really enjoyed meeting clinicians from all over the country, from different disciplines and with different experiences. My family are all very supportive and very interested in the work – I was on call for November/December 2017 and so asked permission first in case I was away for Christmas.
I was deployed at the end of December 2017 to Bangladesh with the UK Emergency Medical Team, to help address the diphtheria outbreak in the Rohingya Camp at Cox’s Bazar. I was part of the first team of 28 and my primary role was to be the staff GP, but I was also part of a team that ran one of the treatment centres. Each of the 28 had a vital and specific role (though not necessarily their specific role in the UK) and we became very close during the three week deployment. When we arrived, the bare bamboo, woven and plastic structure was already there. Within 48 hours, we had transformed it into two wards, a triage area and an office/treatment room. We were working with Bangladeshi doctors, nurses and community workers from the IOM (International organisation for Migration). Local staff produced bamboo structures such as an equipment store, shelving and a shelter for patients waiting to be seen, to order and within 24 hours. I really enjoyed working with the local doctors – one woman was in post for 3 months, away from her family. While we were there, her mother brought her daughter to meet with her in Cox’s Bazar on her day off. She wouldn’t be seeing them again for several weeks.
I remember many of the patients – one boy of about 16 or 17 who accompanied his younger brother. The clinic with everyone gowned and masked was such an alien environment and he looked so anxious and burdened with responsibility. He had to consent to his brother receiving DAT (the antitoxin given I/V over several hours with careful monitoring). The transformation within 24 hours to a beaming smile with his brother feeling better was memorable.
The days were long – we lived in a hotel and were transported into and from the camp – a journey of up to ninety minutes. The scale of the camp was vast – 600,000 people living on newly deforested land in bamboo and plastic shelters. Near the clinic there were a few shops e.g. one selling street food as people tried to develop communities.
As a GP, used to working alone most of the time, I really enjoyed being part of a team- doing ward rounds, discussing patients etc. I would definitely deploy again.