Interview with a field Doctor
South Sudan Medical Support
Interview with a field Doctor
One of our consultants has had the amiability to share a few of his experiences from one of our projects in South Sudan.
South Sudan is a fairly new country and it has more than 12 million people.
The medical system is quite rudimentary, which can be expected of a new country, and needs some new developments in order to be able to offer decent medical facilities and services countrywide.
Most of the medical practice is done by buying antibiotics and vaccines from markets or small stores.
Dr. D worked in South Sudan for 10 weeks, coordinating the medical clinics for one of our clients.
What was it like working in South Sudan?
It was quite an experience working there, and an especially useful one for me as everything was vastly different. I was used to Western medical facilities and arriving at the facility I realised just how different it all was! Luckily, our client had provided us with everything we needed in terms of medical facilities and it was up to international standards.
We were able to fulfil all medical emergencies for our client and give supportive treatment and procedures to high standards.
I had a brilliant team of colleagues with a lot of field experience and together we managed one mini hospital (4 hospital beds, a resus room, a pharmacy and two consultation rooms) and five other permanent camp sites with medical tents for first aid.
What type of emergencies did you have to deal with?
Even though it was a small clinic we had to deal with a few real emergencies of our own, but most of the time it felt like a family doctor practice, where the patients would come in with different problems, more or less urgent.
Most of the time they came in with symptoms of malaria such as a high fever, body aches, lethargy or feeling unwell. Another common thing were insect bites.
We also had to deal with a few orthopaedic emergencies such as open fractures, joint dislocation and others. We had to deal with car accidents or working accidents which sometimes lead to bad injuries.
The biggest challenge in that environment was the lack of more advanced facilities like advanced radiology or specific blood tests. We were able to do all emergency blood tests and x-rays but not things like CTs or MRIs.
In these cases, we had to medevac the patients with a two-hour helicopter flight to a Kenyan hospital.
What is some advice you can give to someone interested in travelling to South Sudan?
First of all, the nature is fantastic, the beauty is visible all over with the bright red soil, palm trees, plants and all the animals!
However, if you do end up visiting this wonderful country you should still be cautious as it can be quite a dangerous place for your health.
To avoid anything bad happening I would suggest always travelling with emergency medical support contacts, proper insurance, copies of official documents such as passports, work or travel permits and money in smaller bills – it has definitely helped me out of a few bad situations in the past!
Most of these are quite obvious things everyone should travel with but sometimes you don’t always remember to bring everything you need with you when travelling, so it is always important to make sure you have basic essentials such as a satellite phone, water bottle (makes sure your water is clean and uncontaminated) and most importantly, insect repellent to avoid mosquito bites (malaria)!!
You should avoid having anything valuable on show, such as expensive watches and jewellery or smartphones. It s also incredibly important that you protect yourself from the sun, by using high SPF sunscreen and avoiding direct sun exposure where possible, as heat stroke can hit any time.
Air conditioning is a great thing to have as it not only keeps away the heat but also insects (mosquitos, spiders, ants etc.). Avoid going in bushes as there is a high risk of deadly snake bites anywhere shadowed and always shake your shoes out so you don’t have any surprises inside like scorpions! Some locals also believe that a picture can take away their souls, so you may want to be wary when taking photographs of anything. While it seems like a lot of rules to follow, it is better to be safe than sorry, but don’t let that distract from the amazingly beautiful country and culture!
What was the most shocking thing you witnessed?
There were a few situations where I was left quite shocked, but if I had to narrow it down, I think I would have to say the most shocking sight was a market that sold animal parts. It showed just how different Western culture is from life in South Sudan, and it was definitely not for the faint hearted.
There were animal bones on sale, and guts filled with flies, the smell of the rotten meat was terrible and at the next table there was a man selling snake eggs!
Another incident, at a different market, was when a teenager tried to sell me an AK 47 automatic assault rifle for $100. He ended up lowering the price to $20 for the gun and a full case of bullets (I obviously didn’t buy it but it was still an interesting experience)!
One day we visited a ‘hospital’ which was essentially just four walls with four holes for windows, but without any actual windows, doors, no floor and not even a roof – just 6 rusty beds and patients, two on each bed and some on the floor.
There was also a sort of prison, where poor prisoners would hang off a dead tree, tied at the hands and wounded. Families had to bribe the guards otherwise the prisoners would stay in the sun with no water all day - it was an unsettling sight.
Are there any funny memories you have from your time working there?
Well, we were celebrating New Years on site, and our chef from South Africa cooked a cake especially for us and it was covered in white chocolate. Now the thing is, the locals hadn’t heard of white chocolate before so none of them even touched the cake, they didn’t know what it was! But once we explained to them that it’s the same, just a different colour, they all got so excited and jumped up at the chance to try it.
It was great seeing them discover new things, as a lot of the people there had no knowledge of some of things we take for granted in day to day life.
Once, I also saw a guy washing a petrol task with no PPE and I asked the sight manager to give him some gloves. Now the funny part was that this worker thought he was meant to wash the tank WITH the gloves to he soaked them in water and soap and started washing the tank!
It was just an honest mistake, but we all laughed about it later.
Now, you’ve said that there were some funny memories, but what about scary? Was there anything that made you genuinely scared?
There was only one instance for me where I was truly scared and it was around 11pm, when I heard something that sounded like shooting awfully close to my house.
A short time after this we got an announcement over the radio that we had to evacuate the site immediately and all personnel were to go to the helicopters for an emergency evacuation.
We were always advised to have a backpack ready with our passports, money, a satellite phone, emergency contacts, some food like biscuits and water in case of anything like this happening. Luckily for us we were well prepared, and the situation was sorted out amazingly fast by our security team and we ere able to return to our normal schedule shortly after.
All this being said, that didn’t make the situation any less terrifying!
Do you think doctors from Western culture should try to implicate themselves more, and help more developing countries like South Sudan?
Yes, definitely! Lots of things we see as normal are inexistent or have never been heard of in places like this. I think it is our duty as doctors to help those who need it, and I think that with a little effort we can help people to have a better chance at life.
They deserve to have the same healthcare as everyone else in the world, starting from things like syringes and bandages to antibiotics, vaccines and complex surgeries.
Thank you very much Dr. D for letting us interview you, and for sharing your experiences with our blog!
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