We had another extremely successful information evening this year, with three great speakers who have been out to CoRSU hospital recently:
Marc Swan, consultant plastic and reconstructive surgeon (specialising in cleft lip and palate surgery) from Oxford;
Jane Sibley, specialist cleft lip and palate specialist nurse from Oxford;
Vikram Devaraj, consultant plastic and reconstructive surgeon at The Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital.
Marc commenced with an informative overview of healthcare in Uganda – he spoke about the country, how the Ugandan healthcare system works both in cities and in rural communities, and how patients cannot afford their healthcare.
He showed us how Interface is helping to fund the seven Ugandan surgical trainees at CoRSU, and it was wonderful to hear how they have gone from having never seeing a cleft lip patient to performing cleft repairs effectively. This has been achieved through training from Andrew Hodges and George Galliwango, as well as first class teaching from visiting specialist surgeons (such as Marc) and attending specialist training courses – often funded by Interface. We saw photos of the trainees making use of the equipment that Interface has bought – textbooks, computers, etc. He talked about some of the patient caseload he saw, and the complex nature of the cases out in Uganda, the result of the difficulty in affording and finding the right treatment.
Marc also visited Kagando hospital, and met with Ken (the physio that Interface has been supporting). He had a lovely photo of a very happy Ken receiving some equipment that had been funded by Interface. He showed photos which highlighted the differences between a rural hospital and the better funded hospital in Kampala.
Jane’s talk gave a completely different perspective about her role with mothers and babies born with cleft lips and palates. She showed us the problems with feeding these babies – how they are unable to create a vacuum and suck, so are at great risk of malnourishment and starvation. She showed us that there is such a simple answer to this – feeding them breastmilk with squeezable bottles, so that the baby does not need to suck. She took breast pumps and many soft bottles with her, which are relatively cheap to buy here. Many of the babies need feeding up with their mothers’ breast milk before they are well enough to have a cleft repair, so it is essential that they can get this nourishment. The nursing staff and mothers were so happy to have a simple solution, and Interface is hoping to help source and fund some bottles to send regularly to continue the work Jane has started. The nurses at CoRSU are going to provide feedback about how the mothers are getting on, and try to work out how to make the initiative sustainable before we continue.
What really came across in Jane’s presentation was how the mothers were able to come together and talk to each other about the problems they were having – some had felt so alone before, perhaps being the only mum with a cleft baby in their community and possibly being ostracised because of it. Jane knew all the babies and mothers by name, and was obviously so touched by how the mothers helped each other and would comfort any baby crying – not just their own. The good nature and optimism of the people was heart-warming.
Vikram Devaraj just got back from 2 weeks in Uganda, teaching the surgical trainees and performing complex surgery. As usual, he gave a very entertaining talk and had amazing photos. He talked about extreme sports, extreme ironing and extreme dolphin riding to demonstrate the extreme, complex conditions and surgery that the staff at CoRSU have to deal with every day! All because the patients just cannot afford to get the early treatment they need, hoping the problem will go away. So the problem gets bigger and more complicated until they cannot go on living a normal life. His talk really showed us just how difficult the work can be, and hopes that many trainee surgeons from the UK go and get an understanding of cases that they will never experience unless they go to developing countries.
Altogether, it was a brilliant evening – thank you so much to Marc, Jane and Vikram for giving us an insight into your fascinating trips.