Thirty young volunteers from the Wirral on a medical mercy mission to Uganda have helped save the lives of malaria victims, treated over 2,000 people and handed out over 1800 toothbrushes.
They were in Africa as part of a project led by surgeon Stephen Blair, who works at Heswall’s Spire’s Murrayfield Hospital, and his wife Christine.
Stephen is a top general surgeon at the private hospital on the Wirral but every year he swaps his role there for a more rough and remote medical posting in East Africa.
Alongside the group of local youngsters, the 60-year-old spent his time on the trip, which is organised through Stephen’s church, working in schools, clinics and an orphanage the team have set up there.
He said: “It went extremely well. It’s always very rewarding to go and we had a good, strong team of 30 teenagers and medical as well as dental teams and we managed to achieve a lot.
“During the two weeks travelling with the medical team we treated over 2,000 people in areas where there is otherwise no medical service at all.
“A lot of what we saw were simple infections that we treated with antibiotics but we were also presented with, for example a small boy who was fitting from the effects of malaria.
“We gave him some intravenous medication and he recovered but if we hadn’t have been there he would have died within hours. It is great to be able to do things like that and the local people really appreciate us being there.”
Alongside a team of Ugandan translators and supporters the young people on the trip had three set tasks during their stay – to run a menstrual health project, support malaria defences and teach about dental care.
“All of their projects were very successful,” said Stephen. “Regarding menstruation, there is a complete lack of information, many girls don’t know anything about it in advance so when it happens they think they are dying.
“There are no sanitary products available so girls miss school and stay at home for several days a month. We did some research and taught 300 girls how to make their own re-usable products which essentially gives them their lives back.”
Dealing with malaria in Uganda is another major problem and Stephen explained how the Wirral teenagers were armed with the knowledge and tools to go into people’s homes and correctly put mosquito nets up for the locals.
He said: “In doing so they found some pretty harrowing situations. In one hut there were 14 boys living in one room, aged from 12 to 16. They had been recruited from rural areas to play football and each one thought they were going to be the next Ronaldo, but in the meantime they were left with no adult supervision or guidance.
“We went in to organise mosquito nets but ended up signing them up for school, making sure they were being fed and finding some grown-ups willing to look out for them.”
The dental education part of the mission was also vital with 1,800 toothbrushes distributed throughout the trip to people who had no way of caring for their teeth.
Stephen said: “They needed the toothbrushes as their gums were so sore from disease but once they had got them clean from that they were able to manage their teeth themselves.
“We taught them how to use a eucalyptus stick and mash up the end until it is all frayed to make it like a brush to keep caring for their teeth properly.”
Often sleeping in bunk beds in simple huts, the UK team were able to catch up with youngsters they have treated in the past.
One boy, born with spina bifida and a swollen head, was fitted at birth with a tube from his head to his stomach on one of Stephen’s earlier visits and he was delighted to see him now blossoming.
He said: “He is now being cared for beautifully and had a special portable wooden chair, so the next step is to see if we can find a wheelchair for him as he still has to be carried everywhere.”
Stephen has worked at Spire Murrayfield for 22 years, where his role presents him with a completely different set of issues to those found in Uganda.
The climate, drought and poverty has a huge impact on everyone and Stephen described the shock of returning to such cleanliness on going back to Murrayfield.
The trip also leaves a lasting impression with the teenagers who go, many returning with different ambitions for their lives and changed attitudes to their own comfortable environments.
“The parents often say how much their children have changed and they have started to appreciate everything that they have, as well as rethinking what they want to do with their lives,” Stephen added.
Alison Da Silva, Hospital Director of Spire Murrayfield Hospital, said: “Stephen and his team do a fantastic job out there in Uganda and have saved lives and improved the quality of life for the people there hugely over the years.
“We’re delighted to be able to support their missions by doing blood testing for all the party so that if anything happens in what can be a difficult part of the world their blood groups are easily identifiable.”
The Uganda trip is organised through the Parish Of Heswall churches, and was the fifth of its kind to take place, with Stephen and his wife Christine taking part each time.
It is supported by the Rock Of Joy Trust which was established to help three schools and their communities in Uganda after initial visits from Heswall medics and churchgoers back in 2007.
Uganda 01: Ugandan boy with hydrocephalus.
Uganda 02: Treating a patient with a ‘bush’ nebuliser, a cut down water bottle and an inhaler for a child too young to be able to use an inhaler.
Uganda 03: Patients at the outdoor clinic.
Uganda 04: Stephen Blair with a lame man who had a road traffic accident a year ago which left him with shattered left leg. With a splint from England and crutches the Wirral team had him walking again.
About Spire Healthcare
Spire Healthcare is a leading independent hospital group in the United Kingdom, with 38 hospitals, 12 clinics and two Specialist Care Centres across England, Wales and Scotland, treating insured, self-pay and NHS patients. The Group delivered tailored, personalised care to more than 260,000 in-patients and daycase patients in 2014, and is the leading provider by volume of knee and hip operations in the United Kingdom.
Spire offers in-patient/daycase procedures in areas including orthopaedics, gynaecology, cardiology, neurology, oncology and general surgery and also diagnostic services including imaging and pathology. The Group also offers out-patient services, such as consulting, minor procedures, treatments, health checks and physiotherapy.
In 2015, Spire Healthcare was voted Private Hospital Group of the year 2015 by Health Investor Magazine for the second year running.