Dr Beasley recently volunteered with us so we got in touch to find out more about his experience.
Why did you decide to get involved with On Call Africa?
I wanted to do something with an NGO. I found On Call Africa via a quick Google search. I found them easy to deal with – quick and clear replies to emails. There wasn’t a large charge, and it was clear what I’d be doing
How long did you volunteer for and when?
February 2020. I signed up for 3 months but due to Covid-19 my time was cut short.
What did you get involved in during your time?
I was involved in clinics, this is the main way On Call Africa provided clinical care during my visit. This involved seeing patients and also mentoring the Community Health Workers.
You kindly offered to steer the QI project for medical guidelines, can you tell me more about this?
I felt the guidelines On Call Africa provided didn’t link up with what we stocked and what conditions we were seeing on the ground. It was also missing information about the necessary medications and that the majority of doctors wouldn’t know from memory. I didn’t believe it would be too difficult to improve the guidelines to a better clinical standard and also reflect what equipment we had. Plenty of people wanted to help and allowed sharing of the workload.
What training did you provide the Community Health Workers and what impact did this have?
The training of Community Health Workers was done in clinic, unfortunately we left prior to the training week. We got more experienced Community Health Workers to see patients independently, we would review them and their plan prior to discharge. Newer Community Health Workers started as translators, our logic was explained and as they saw more cases they gained more first-hand experience. It would be useful for volunteer doctors and the Community Health Workers if this could become more formalised, helpful to understand what everyone is doing and where they are heading.
I think the impact was good. We saw a lot of patients who wouldn’t otherwise have access to healthcare. However this is limited to the people who turn up, due to distances and the poor roads, there must be lots of people who didn’t come to clinic because they couldn’t. Once we left I’m not sure what impact the Community Health Workers had, they also don’t have access to medications to or malaria RDTs so are limited in what they can provide, I know changes to this were being discussed. These challenges are not specific to On Call Africa and are not easy to overcome.
Which Rural Health Centre did you volunteer in and what was it like?
I worked in three in total. My first clinic was with the young girl who was having seizures due to severe malaria and needed to be urgently transferred to hospital. This is the patient I remember the most.
How did you find the experience of the On Call Africa volunteer programme?
The experience was excellent. Signing up was easy and the pre departure tasks weren’t too taxing. The experience in country was amazing. In country staff Victor, Mike and Sue were very knowledgeable and experienced. Small problems with the accommodation at the time but I see there is new accommodation that looks better.
You volunteered in 2020 and had to depart due to Covid-19, how did this feel?
It was sad to leave, I enjoyed and believed in what On Call Africa did. It was also a nice place to be and explore on and outside of clinics.
What is your lasting memory of volunteering in Zambia?
Getting stuck and having to push the cars out and then camping overnight. Me and I’m sure others went looking for a bit of adventure as well as the medical side!
Would you recommend the volunteer programme?
Yes I would. It needs to be the right sort of person who understands what and why they will be doing the programme.
For those about to embark on the training programme or visit Zambia, do you have any recommendations?
In the community clinics there’s actually only a few problems people come with, some you will see in the UK (back pain) others many doctors won’t have seen (malaria). It would be worth reading up about those and being aware of what they are. Also understand what equipment and medications are available, some of which are different to the UK. Also understanding the cultural differences for both medicine and general life.
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