Becoming a volunteer Doctor for On Call Africa not only supports impriving healthcare in rural Zambia. It also provides doctors with further training and experiences they won’t get elsewhere. We interviewed Dr Greenan to find out more about his time in Zambia with On Call Africa
Why did you decide to get involved with On Call Africa?
I was planning some time out during my GP training, and was really keen on doing some volunteer work abroad. I’d previously done an elective in Tanzania and so was interested in returning to Africa. A friend who had volunteered before with On Call Africa recommended them to me. I was really impressed by the focus on health education and the training of community health workers, and the fact they have an eventual exit plan. To me this shows how they are working towards the longer term goals of improving the healthcare of rural communities in a sustainable way, rather than offering a temporary fix.
How long did you volunteer for and when?
I planned to volunteer for 3 months in early 2020, unfortunately I had to return home after 5 weeks due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
What did you get involved in during your time?
We would run clinics in rural areas during the week – this would often involve travelling long distances by car, setting off either early in the morning or even the day before. Before starting the clinic each morning we would run health education session for those who were waiting to be seen, on topics such as sexual health or hand sanitation. We would then start seeing the patients in the queue, with the assistance of Community Health Workers for translation. Also using this opportunity to supervise and train them in basic medical skills. I visited during the rainy season, so we did have some access issues getting out to the villages on occasions.
We would take the opportunity to visit local schools to run health education sessions, or meet with a local womens’ group to run sessions on subjects they wanted to learn about, such as identifying a sick child.
You kindly offered to steer the QI project for medical guidelines, can you tell me more about this?
When we were in Zambia last year, as a group of 4, we noticed some potential for improvement of the guidelines and medication formulary. Mostly in terms of needing to update them, and getting them a little more organised. It was actually one of the other volunteers, Simon, who led on this. Once we returned home he was able to organise a group of volunteers to take on different sections of the guidelines to rewrite and update them. I reviewed the respiratory guidance and immunisation sections. Having worked in the clinics there, I had experience in knowing what sort of layout and information would be useful. I think we’ve managed to produce some good guidance which will be easy for the future volunteers to access. It’s particularly important when dealing with conditions which aren’t common in your home country, particularly when signal is poor and googling is not an option!
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