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Alison Wells is a neonatal nurse working at Craigavon Hospital, Northern Ireland. Along with colleagues she is a winner of the 2016 Doctors as volunteers poster competition - the winning poster can be found here.
In 2015 with the help of the BMA Humanitarian Fund I was able to accompany a small team of healthcare workers from the UK to South Sudan. We were working with the Essential Life Saving Skills for Africa (Charity No. NIC100712) which was set up in Northern Ireland to deliver the Essential Obstetric and Neonatal Care course (EONC).
The course was for midwives, clinical officers and doctors and attempts to address the major causes of maternal and neonatal deaths and morbidity: - haemorrhage, sepsis, eclampsia, obstructed labour, miscarriage and new-born resuscitation. South Sudan has the highest maternal mortality in the world and infant mortality is ranked 16th (CIA Factbook, 2015).
My main role was to teach neonatal life support, but you quickly learn when you are volunteering overseas you need to be able to turn your hand to many a thing, for example carrying equipment to another venue when the electricity fails.
The team quickly jelled together as most of us where very much out of our comfort zone. Role play was an important part of the teaching and had both facilitators and participants in stitches as an unconscious patient would move themselves into the recovery position unassisted. Also there was great participation from everyone when we taught them a song to sing to encourage proper hand washing.
The day consisted of an early start arriving at our venue at 7.30am to start class at 8am, and finishing at 5pm, followed by a debrief session back at the hotel and a well-earned cool drink.
Working with the participants was a humbling experience as we listened to their experiences and what they have to deal with on a daily basis with limited resources. They were so keen to learn and would use break times to practice on the mannequins.
Highlights for me would be when the Labour Ward Sister took the break out session on the second week and taught the practical skills of neonatal life support with me looking on. Also at the end of the course a Midwife tutor who had been on the course spoke a word of thanks to us, and then spoke to the class and said that it was up to them to share with their colleagues what they had learnt and to bring about change.
Volunteering with ELSSA was an unforgettable life changing experience. The trip has refreshed my practice in the NHS and made me aware of global issues in health.
I would highly recommend ELSSA to anyone thinking of voluntary work.
The Charity can be contacted at [email protected] or www.elssafrica.org