Each year, thousands of Europe-based healthcare professionals decide to spend their annual leave using their medical skills to help others. Some run outreach clinics in areas that lack provision, while others work in refugee camps or share skills and knowledge with local colleagues in remote medical facilities. Remote access to medicine and resources remains a problem for those volunteering their time.
One of them is Dr Abubakar Zubairu (“Abu” to his friends), a paediatric consultant based in south Manchester. He is also projects co-ordinator for Africa Healthcare Development Trust (AHDT), which works with local partners to improve delivery of healthcare in Africa.
Since 2010, Abu has been travelling to Nigeria during leave periods to run outpatient clinics at a large hospital in Kaduna, in the northwest of the country. These clinics treat adults and children for a range of conditions. Because the clinics are free, people often travel hundreds of miles to attend. On Abu’s last six-day visit in 2018, he and four colleagues from the UK alongside Nigerian colleagues treated nearly 3,500 people.
To facilitate this kind of work, Abu and other healthcare professionals often need to source and transport their own medicines.
In a well-established health system, it can be easy to forget the effort it takes to move medicine safely and effectively into pharmacies, and on to patients. Globally, lack of access to medicine is a complex problem and has no easy single solution. Overwhelming demand, poor infrastructure and weak regulatory systems all play a part, and this leaves an estimated two billion people with no access to essential medicines. In Nigeria, commonly, patients cannot pay for medical care, and the quality of pharmaceuticals is not guaranteed.
Many Medics, including Abu and the AHDT, now rely on the Essential Health Packs supplied by International Health Partners (IHP) to provide their remote access to medicine. Through a dedicated programme, teams and individuals can sign up for these portable kits, which are packed with essential medicines to support critical primary healthcare delivery, even in remote and inaccessible settings. Each kit acts as a mobile pharmacy, offering a broad assortment of over-the-counter and prescription medicines including antibiotics, analgesics, anti-inflammatories, anti-fungals and anti-parasitic medicines. A single kit comprises a minimum of 800 courses of treatment. Coming in two boxes and weighing approximately 20kg the packs are designed to be highly portable and fit within airline luggage limits as packs are sent to the medics to carry with them for their work overseas.
On his last visit, Abu and colleagues performed 91 cataract operations and 411 general surgical procedures, treating hernia and appendix problems, and doing breast surgery and lump removals. Reflecting on why he gives up his free time to volunteer in Kaduna, Abu remembers a seven-year-old boy leading his blind grandfather into the clinic. “This man was blind because of cataracts. We operated on one eye and he could see. The next day, we operated on his other eye, and he cried and cried because his sight was restored. When I got home, the grandson phoned me. He passed the phone to his grandfather, who said two words: ‘Thank you.’ He still phones me now, just to say:
‘Thank you, I can see.’ That’s why I go – to give an old man back his sight. I enjoy seeing and hearing
about the legacy we leave.”
Over the last three years packs have been taken to support work in 21 countries across the world in a huge variety of contexts from refugee camps in Jordan and Lesvos to remote clinics in Nepal and Uganda. In 2018 over 200,00 courses of treatment were sent out through the programme.
If you are already working, or plan to work in an environment where the medicines you’ll need aren’t always available, contact international health partners for more details about applying for an Essential Health Pack.
For more stories of remote medics, check out our stories page.