The Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust

Leeds trainee doctors help to improve healthcare in Africa

9 October 2019

Three trainee doctors from Leeds have just returned from Africa after teaching healthcare in some of the world’s most deprived countries.

One has helped run dental pain relief clinics in rural Tanzania, another has been sharing her expertise to improve the care of new born babies in Zambia, and a third doctor has helped improve medical care for pupils at a special school in Nigeria.

All three used travel bursaries provided by the Opt In (Overseas Partnering and Training Initiative) charity that supports educational and training visits to developing countries.

Adam Jones, an academic clinical fellow in oral surgery at the Leeds Dental Institute, has just returned from two weeks in Tanzania where there is one dentist to 128,000 patients compared to one in 2,000 in the UK.

As a result, pain and suffering from tooth decay in countries like these is common and prolonged, with some people going several years without any treatment.

Working with the Tanzanian Regional Dental Officer, Adam and colleagues from Bridge2Aid, a UK-based dental development charity, trained six clinical officers in basic oral surgery over two weeks which means they can now offer basic pain-relieving dental surgery in their own remote communities where no service would otherwise have been available.

One patient, a 63-year-old blind man, travelled with his son for three hours to the special health centre set up by the charity near the capital Dar Es Salaam for treatment.  He is now pain free for the first time in five years having previously suffered because of the distances and costs involved in accessing treatment.

Said Adam: “The programme was intense with the team working 10 hours a day in hot and dusty difficult conditions without electricity, and sterilisation was carried out using pressure cookers.

“Yet, over the course of nine clinical days we treated over 700 patients free of charge.  All of our clinical officers gained extensive experience allowing them to provide care in their own communities long after the UK team has departed.”

Another doctor, Leeds Children’s Hospital trainee paediatric registrar Aoife Hurley, spent six months helping and teaching at the Women and Newborn hospital in the Zambian capital Lusaka.

Her work was split between clinical duties and teaching and supporting the local team at the busy baby unit which at times looked after 100 babies and has an average monthly death rate of 30%.

She also introduced bonding squares to the unit - two knitted squares with one staying with the baby and one with the mum close to their skin to improve bonding between mother and child.

2. Aoife and the team

These squares are used in UK neonatal units and were well received by the local Zambian neonatal team and mothers.

Said Aoife: “The opportunity to work in Zambia has improved my clinical skills, decision making, helped me learn more management skills and how to take on more senior leadership roles. 

“Seeing patients die from preventable causes and not having the same chances they would in the UK has been challenging and difficult, however, the team in Lusaka are amazing - their dedication and ability to work with very little is inspiring.”

 Nguavese Onoviran, another paediatrician at Leeds Children’s Hospital, has been in Nigeria helping to design a system for promoting better organized health care for children in a special school.

It means that staff, parents and health care professionals can work closer together thanks to the creation of personal medical records for each pupil that will link to health care services and more closely monitor each child’s health care.

Nguavese has been involved in designing a proforma for staff and parents to use as part of a pilot study and training them in how to use it.

As there is no formal school clinic or current public/private funding for school based medical care, assessments and reviews of goals is challenging.   An option will be to invest in training current staff.

Dr Helen Ford, who is a consultant neurologist in Leeds and director of the Opt In initiative, said Opt In was delighted to have supported Aoife, Adam and Nguavese through the travel bursary scheme.

“The work that all three doctors have done is really impressive and meets our goals in  sharing skills in global partnerships,” said Dr Ford. “The experience of working in resource poor healthcare settings can have a lasting impact on NHS staff.”

  Nguavese Onoviran, Dr Helen Ford, Aoife Hurley